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American Federation of Teachers Partners with Community-Based Organizations to Protect Immigrant Students and Families


Oct 9, 2018

New York—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, along with many community-based organizations—including the ACLU, the Hispanic Federation, Kids in Need of Defense, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and more than 70 others—today announced the launch of an initiative designed to help classroom teachers protect immigrant students and their families from racism, discrimination, bullying and threats of deportation at public schools.

The initiative, Standing United to Protect the Rights of Immigrant Students and Their Families, offers educators, nurses and other school support personnel a toolkit with materials to support immigrant youth and their families, as the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency continues to separate and intern immigrant families along the southern border, and threaten them with targeted deportation raids, even at their schools, completely disrupting their emotional, psychological and educational well-being.

Unveiled during the Hispanic Federation’s Education Summit in New York, the joint initiative seeks to ensure the enforcement, at every level, of the law established by the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe, which held that all children in the United States—even undocumented children—are entitled to a K-12 public education, and any denial of that right based on immigration status is illegal. AFT members work on the front lines with immigrant kids every day; this initiative provides the tools they need to educate their school communities, create buffers of support between their students and law enforcement, and pass safe zone and sanctuary resolutions to protect students from disruptive immigration enforcement tactics on school grounds.

The AFT’s Weingarten said:

“As educators, nurses and human beings, we cannot stand by as this administration rips families apart. This toolkit will help everyone who works in a school understand that federal law actually prohibits public schools from doing anything to deny, deter or chill a child’s access to education, including reporting, or threatening to report, that child to ICE.

“In this time of great uncertainty, this initiative tells immigrant children and their families: You belong here, you matter, and your teachers are here to protect you.

“Our schools should be safe sanctuaries of teaching and learning, and no child should go to school in fear of being reported to ICE. With these tools, teachers, counselors and other school staff can help end the criminalization, detention and deportation of immigrant students by knowing their rights and knowing how to defend them. And if school officials at any level attempt to block an immigrant child from safely attending school, these tools ensure that educators can report those violations and access the legal help they need to protect that child and his or her family.”

The partner organizations agreed:

“Since our inception, the American Association of University Women has advocated for increasing access to education for women and girls. At this critical moment in history, we must work to uphold the principles established by the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe and defend the rights of all students, but particularly immigrant students, to safely attend school,” said AAUW's Chief Executive Officer Kimberly Churches. “AAUW understands the impact that education has on the lives of students and on the nation’s overall prosperity and strength. That is why we applaud the ideals set forth in the Standing United to Protect the Rights of Immigrant Students and Families initiative and look forward to working with partner organizations to ensure all students have equal access to education regardless of immigration status.”

“The Constitution guarantees every child equal access to a basic education—regardless of her race, where she comes from, or her immigration status. The ACLU stands with teachers fighting to make sure all children receive the education they need to become full members of society,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns, ACLU.

“This initiative comes at a critical time while this administration continues to target immigrants and working people for attack. The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO, is proud to use these resources with our members to protect and uplift our immigrant families,” said APALA Executive Director Alvina Yeh.

“It is the settled law of the land that immigrant children have a constitutional right to an education. Children of immigrant families also deserve safety and peace at school. It is truly appalling that children and their teachers are being used as chess pieces by the Trump administration to further divide us. Let children learn, let teachers teach, let Plyler stand—it is the law of our land,” said Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice, Center for Community Change.

“In the face of growing anti-immigrant rhetoric and enforcement actions by the Trump administration, it is becoming clear that Latino immigrant families and children are under siege and that this surge in xenophobia is having a dramatic impact on children in our nation’s classrooms. It’s up to teachers, staff, parents and community organizations to work together to ensure that legal protections for immigrant children are honored always. It is why we are so grateful to the AFT for spearheading this effort and proudly join this much-needed campaign to ensure that every classroom in America is a safe space for children and free of any threats related to immigration status,” said Hispanic Federation President Jose Calderon.

“Kids in Need of Defense is proud to stand alongside the AFT to help ensure that no immigrant child is denied a public school education because of immigration status or perceived status,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “Plyler v. Doe made clear the United States’ commitment to education for all children; anything less irrevocably harms children and our country.”

“The League of United Latin American Citizens is proud to stand united alongside the AFT in ensuring that the principles established in Plyler v. Doe are being followed in the entire country. We know the challenges that lie ahead, and we must work together to ensure that every child, regardless of immigration status, has access to quality education. At a time when so many in our community are under attack, we thank Randi and the entire AFT team for their leadership in protecting every child. Together we rise!” said LULAC CEO Sindy Benavides.

“In the nearly four decades since the decision in Plyler v. Doe, experience has demonstrated the important contributions these students can and will make to our country as educated adults,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Those who ignore this recent history—including Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos—present a danger to our nation’s future success, so we are proud to join the AFT in ensuring that champions of public education are defenders of educational opportunity for all children, including those from immigrant families.”

“Every child in America—regardless of immigration status—has the right to education. It’s protected by our Constitution and it’s been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court,” said Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec, immigration policy advocate, National Immigration Law Center. “Schools are places where kids should be focused on one thing: learning.”

“We thank the AFT for speaking out for immigrant youth and families,” said Steven Choi, executive director, New York Immigration Coalition. “All children, irrespective of their immigration status, deserve to be safe in their schools and have equal access to quality education and support services. New York will be stronger only when all its residents are able to thrive and contribute to the state’s economic, cultural and social development.”

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