Activists fear the plan puts students and families at risk by increasing collaboration between federal agents and police officers in American schools
One student exchanged hand gestures with a classmate in the school hallway. Another drew graffiti in his notebook. A third wore a Chicago Bulls T-shirt.
School authorities on Long Island, New York, accused the teenagers of displaying signs or symbols associated with a notorious street gang with close ties to Central America. They were suspended, and several of the students were arrested. But before the charges were substantiated even before appeals of their suspensions were complete the students were shipped off to detention facilities thousands of miles from home, without their parents knowledge.
Not because of gang activity which has yet to be proven in court but because of immigration status.
How teenagers with no criminal convictions ended up in the hands of federal authorities is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Its also a troubling example of how Donald Trumps wide ranging executive order to ramp up immigration enforcement may be giving federal immigration authorities a stronger foothold in Americas schools.
As many as 20,000 police officers are stationed inside American schools to help maintain safety. Called school resource officers, they are employed by local police or sheriffs agencies and historically have few ties to immigration authorities. But Trumps immigration order, signed in January, revived a decades-old program which trains local law enforcement officials in immigration enforcement and deputizes them with federal authority. Since some of these newly empowered police departments also deploy officers to schools, attorneys and civil rights activists say school resource officers can easily become a conduit for personal information about students and their families, such as undocumented status, that is supposed to be protected under federal student privacy laws.
Immigration arrests have increased 38% since Trump took office. Though just 60 law enforcement agencies currently participate in the immigration enforcement program, according to Ice, that number has nearly doubled since January. Interviews with officials at participating local agencies show that about half assign officers to schools, including in Maryland, Arizona and South Carolina.
A 2011 Ice memo discouraging enforcement at schools remains in place under Trump, spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said. A supreme court decision from 1982 established that all children living in America have the legal right to attend public schools, regardless of their immigration status. The department of homeland security is committed to ensuring that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so without fear or hesitation, she said but immigration authorities will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.
On Long Island, where police are battling the brutal street gang MS-13 an effort applauded by Trump in a visit last month attorney Bryan Johnson said that innocent teenagers at Brentwood high school have been swept up after educators shared student disciplinary records with school resource officers from the Suffolk County police department, which has a partnership with federal officials to crack down on gang violence. Schools, he said, can have a pretty strong educated guess as to a familys immigration status, and because the schools provide the information, immigration officials know where students live. More than 75% of students at the high school are Hispanic.