Jenny Muñiz-Sicairos, a second-grade teacher at Rodriguez Elementary School, said she and her colleagues have had some “very difficult days in our classrooms” since the presidential election.

Uncertainty about potential changes in the country’s immigration laws and their enforcement are causing students to worry about their future in the United States and even about being deported, Muñiz-Sicairos said.

“I have 7-year-olds asking me things like, ‘Are they going to send us back to Mexico? Can the cops get us in school because we’re Mexican?’” Muñiz-Sicairos told the San Antonio ISD board of trustees Tuesday. “How can I answer those questions if I don’t have the answers for them myself?”

Muñiz-Sicairos, Alejandra Lopez of Stewart Elementary, and San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel President Shelley Potter have called on the school district’s board to adopt a resolution that would prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity on district campuses, provide support to concerned students and families, and offer professional development to faculty and staff on immigration issues.

Read the full resolution here.

SAISD Board President Patti Radle said the resolution would have to be studied before the board placed it on the agenda for future consideration. She affirmed that educating parents about the issue and having a “continued dialogue” was a district priority.

“We need to make sure that all of our children feel safe in our schools and do everything we can to support them in that regard,” Radle said.

Michelle Potter gives her remarks during a C.O.P.S./Metro Alliance press conference asking for a living wage for a percentage of SAISD employees. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel President Shelley Potter. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Questions about how schools, universities, and local governments should deal with federal immigration enforcement have intensified following the election of Donald Trump, who during his campaign called for stepped-up deportation of undocumented immigrants. Anticipating changes in immigration policies, some cities and institutions have adopted “sanctuary” policies, which essentially assert neutrality in enforcing immigration laws.

Potter said that to ensure a productive learning environment, students who are undocumented or have undocumented parents need to “know that our schools will be safe spaces,” and teachers and principals need to know how to provide this.

“We have little ones who are afraid they will find their mother gone when they come home from school,” she told the board. “… We have high school students who have been in the United States since they were a year old now crying in their counselor’s office and despairing, ‘I’ll never be able to go to college now, will I?’”

These types of worries started in classrooms “Day One, right after the election,” SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez told the Rivard Report. Sensitively addressing student and family concerns with the guidance of legal experts and community groups, he said, will be a district priority over the next few months.

“We just have to walk the line very well, because this is not our expertise,” Martinez said. “… There’s a lot of uncertainty in general.”

While the district has not noticed adverse effects on attendance or performance data, anecdotal reports show teachers’ concerns are not isolated incidents, Martinez said. 

SAISD Board President Patti Radle (D5). Photo by Scott Ball.
SAISD Board President Patti Radle (D5). Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The resolution calls for declaring every SAISD school a “safe space for students and their families to seek help, assistance, and information if faced with fear and anxiety about immigration enforcement efforts.”

This would involve providing legal support and counseling to immigrant students and their families, increased guidance to undocumented students about college and financial aid opportunities, and training for teachers and administrators on how to engage with ICE personnel, if such a situation arises.

The resolution also would establish policies to keep ICE off school campuses – refusing all voluntary information-sharing, prohibiting campus police from participating in immigration enforcement efforts, and denying ICE detainers, requests, or access to campuses.

Potter said she and a group of teachers formed the resolution after attending a summit on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 2012 program shielding from deportation undocumented young people brought to the United States as children, held by State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123). There, they realized that a feeling of insecurity was an issue among the district’s students.

“Our kids are out there just scared, and their families are scared,” she told the Rivard Report. “… Some of them have been here since they were one year old. It’s crazy that they should have to be, at [age] 16, 17, going, ‘Do I get to stay here?’”

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Daniel Kleifgen

Daniel Kleifgen graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he came to San Antonio in 2013 as a Teach For America corps member.