Even before President Trump was elected, students from immigrant families in Minneapolis and St. Paul began expressing concerns to teachers and other school staff. Some openly wondered if proposals to build a wall and crack down on immigrants would filter down to schools.
And those worries only increased after the billionaire businessman won the election.
Educators in St. Paul, for example, said some of their students feared that they or their families might be pursued by federal authorities even into their classrooms. To ease those fears, teachers rallied at several St. Paul schools the day before Trump’s inauguration and stood shoulder to shoulder with signs that said “We love our students’’ and “We are family.” They formed their own “wall’’ of support for their immigrant kids.
To further affirm that support, both the Minneapolis and St. Paul school boards adopted resolutions that reaffirm their students’ rights to be educated. Like a number of other districts across the nation, they wisely want immigrant communities to know that their children are welcome and will receive an education regardless of immigration status as guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
That message matters in Minnesota because of the changing demographics of schools. In Minneapolis public schools, students speak more than 100 languages and dialects, and 34 percent of students are English language learners. In St. Paul, 22 percent are in ELL programs. Together, the two city districts serve just over 73,000 students — thousands of whom come from immigrant families.
Although it was important for the schools to show their support, it’s also important to note what the resolutions do not say.
St. Paul school board chair John Schumacher said his board’s statement includes statutory language that defines the school district’s duty to educate all students. The resolution does not include the words “sanctuary’’ or “safe harbor,’’ he said, because those terms have no legal bearing on the district’s mission.
Should immigration authorities come to a school to make inquiries, they would be referred to the district administration and legal counsel. School staff would not become immigration agents nor use school resources to assist federal agents — unless they are legally required to do so.
The Minneapolis and St. Paul statements are similar in sentiment to those issued by many cities, counties and local law-enforcement agencies. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have ordinances on the books that separate the work of local police from that of federal immigration enforcement.
However, this week Trump signed an executive order that allows the secretary of Homeland Security to designate local governments as “sanctuary jurisdictions” if they refuse to follow federal immigration law. They would also lose federal grants. That threat looms over the two cities, although St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges have both defended their ordinances.
Law enforcement agencies generally back such policies because they want undocumented immigrants to cooperate with police without fear of deportation. In other words, they want to make clear that it’s not a local cop’s job to be an immigration agent.
In Minneapolis, St. Paul and across Minnesota, school kids should feel safe in the classroom knowing that teachers aren’t federal agents, either.