New Haven Public Schools and community organizations have initiated steps to help students and staff members address the threat of deportation for themselves or their families in light of concerns about President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
On Thursday evening, Hill Central School hosted a “Know Your Rights” workshop in Spanish with the local advocacy group Junta for Progressive Action. The event drew roughly two dozen residents and their children seeking to understand the legal rights of undocumented immigrants, including the rights to remain silent and not open doors to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers without a warrant.
The Board of Education first presented these efforts at its monthly meeting on Jan. 9, outlining a preliminary response plan for helping students and staff in the next four years. With these efforts, the district is seeking to be responsive to student concerns that they could be marginalized based on their religion, nationality or sexual identity, said Mercy Quaye, communications director for NHPS.
Since the presidential election, students have expressed concern for their families and friends because of what students heard in the media about the election, said Abie Benitez, the director of instruction for NHPS.
The district has sought advice from other groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut for guidance, Quaye said. In addition, the district is training staff to support students, families and other staff members who might have concerns following the election, according to Benitez.
Jesus Morales Sanchez, a workshop volunteer from immigrant advocacy organization Unidad Latina en Acción, said the district’s educational events are important, as undocumented immigrants often do not know their legal rights. This can make them vulnerable targets of crime, as they do not know they can go to the police for help, he said.
Other Elm City residents also may not realize that police officers in the city cannot ask residents about their immigration status in accordance with a general order in the city, he added. New Haven is a sanctuary city, and communication between New Haven Police Department officers and ICE is limited.
“We want to make sure that during the next four years, as bad as they can be, [immigrants in New Haven] will be ready to face whatever may come their way,” Morales said. “Information is our biggest weapon.”
NHPD spokesman David Hartman confirmed that the NHPD does not participate in immigration raids.
Dolores Garcia-Blocker, chief of staff for NHPS, said the district is also working to update emergency contact information for its roughly 22,000 students in the event of ICE raids.
At the Thursday night workshop, Garcia-Blocker told attendees the school is working with the NHPD and the New Haven Fire Department to create a plan for where children will go if their families are affected by immigration raids. Parents should make plans in case such a raid occurs, she added.
But Garcia-Blocker said the school and district are not only concerned about protecting undocumented students from raids, but also ensuring that those children can succeed.
“This is a broader effort beyond the most immediate concern of the deportation of undocumented students and families,” she said. “This is part of a larger effort in the district to ensure that our schools are safe places for people to learn and work.”
The Board of Education is composed of 10 members.