5 questions educators are asking about ICE raids and supporting immigrant youth

We know talking to your students about immigration and Mississippi’s recent ICE raids can be challenging. In 2017, NEA hosted a call with the National Immigration Law Center and educators from across the country. The questions asked on the call are ones we are hear again and again. Here’s what was heard:

What do I tell my students who are scared for themselves and their family members?

Educators are in a key position to reinforce that schools are safe spaces and that all students have a right to an education. It is also okay to also acknowledge the uncertainty that students are feeling. This one page guide from Teaching Tolerance provides key tips for supporting students in school including additional tips on how to spot trauma.

Undocumented parents are reaching out to me because they want to make a plan for their children in case they are deported. What can I tell them?

It is important that parents update school forms noting the persons approved for picking their children up from school and any student medical records and waivers are up to date. It is advisable to gather all of the child’s important documents in one safe place (i.e. passport, social security card, medical records, etc). The National Immigration Law Center’s Educators’ Guide offers information and materials educators can use to assist students and families.

In addition, for longer term planning around their child’s custody in the event of a detention or deportation, parents should contact local immigrant support organizations (sometimes available through churches, workers’ rights centers and legal defense organizations) to find appropriate family law services. Where possible, families may want to designate alternate/temporary guardians. This guide by Ninos provides a checklist of questions for consideration and forms for families fearing separation from their children. In addition, the American Bar Association offers these “Tips for Safety Planning for Children of Undocumented Parents.”

What can schools and teachers do when the parents of our students are picked up by ICE?

Some educators are working with school counselors and community groups to set up rapid response teams. The team can triage immediate needs for students and ensure that trusted individuals are ready to be responsive at a very traumatic time. Building relationships with parents and community organizations now is an important place to start. The National Immigration Law Center’s Educators’ Guide offers information and materials educators can use to assist students and families.

How do we get resources and information to a broader audience of educators and allies?

Educators in Austin, TX are providing training to their colleagues so they know how to speak to their students about the current raids and other immigration actions. They have also worked with school administrators to get approval to provide Know Your Rights leaflets in student folders. Permission to use school buildings also requires approval, but activities off site in community centers, churches, and libraries are not considered employment based activities and do not require approval from the principal or district.

My students are afraid to come to school given the reports of ICE raids around the country. What can I do?

Educators, parents and community groups can also bring school Safe Zones resolutions to their school boards to define ICE accountability measures in and around school grounds. If students are expressing fear at school, get an academic freedom paragraph like the one we have in our sample resolution to ensure teachers can discuss issues like this in class. Get the NEA Safe Zones resolution and FAQ here. Also, get familiar with the legal parameters for educators to consider in safely and effectively advocating for immigrant students’ rights by reading the full advisory for NEA members.

You also can make sure that your local elected officials are hearing from educators about how the threats of raids are impacting your students and schools.