Originally published by The NY Times

Citizens in the southwestern Minnesota town of Worthington have approved nearly $34 million in new borrowing to expand schools filled to overflowing in recent years by an influx of immigrants.

Voters in the Worthington-area school district had rejected five similar measures since 2013, but approved a series of three questions on Tuesday.

Some residents had said racism played a role in those defeats. But members of a group that helped sink previous bond proposals say their opposition is fiscal, not racial.

The last referendum, in February, failed by only 17 votes.

The vote in Worthington was one of over 70 referendums taking place in school districts across Minnesota on Tuesday.

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Originally published by The NY Times

Pamela Ortiz Cerda vividly remembered the assignment six years ago from her Mexican-American history instructor at San Joaquin Delta College, a community college in Stockton, Calif. He required voting for our class, Ms. Ortiz Cerda said. Students were told to bring in voting ballot stubs as proof.

I assumed it was a joke, but to the whole class he said, ‘And for you, all you illegals, I’m going to have immigration waiting outside the class for you if you don’t have the stubs,’ she said. As a teenager, straight out of high school, that’s terrifying.

Terrifying because Ms. Ortiz Cerda was undocumented herself, brought to the United States from Mexico when she was 9 by her parents, who sought a better life for the family.

In a statement, San Joaquin Delta College said that it would be almost impossible to know what happened in the history class so many years ago, but said that in recent years the school had taken steps to support undocumented students.

Ms. Ortiz Cerda, now 24, became an advocate for those like herself, and she is the program services coordinator at Skyline College’s Dream Center in San Bruno, Calif.

It is one of about 40 such centers in California that assist students without legal status, navigating the complexities of admissions and classes, and connecting them with financial aid. It’s really a focused effort in supporting undocumented students holistically through their higher ed journeys, she said.

The centers are part of an endeavor in the nation’s higher education system to help undocumented students attend classes and attain degrees. And while many of these programs have existed for years, there are concerns about pushback as the Trump administration has shifted to a zero tolerance policy on illegal immigration.

This has led colleges to develop policies, with California in the forefront, that would thwart possible interference by the federal government.

The concerns are especially acute at community colleges, which have more open admissions policies than selective four-year institutions. According to a report from the California Community Colleges System, up to 70,000 undocumented students attend the state’s 114 community colleges, more than 3 percent of the 2.1 million students enrolled.

We have, as our primary mission, the embracing of all students, and it is our desire to be there for the most vulnerable and the most marginalized populations, said Judy C. Miner, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, which serves Silicon Valley.

The official policy of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is to steer clear of college campuses, unless there is an extraordinary safety threat. Enforcement actions are not to occur at schools, according to the agency’s Sensitive Locations policy, to ensure that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so, without fear or hesitation. The same policy applies to churches and hospitals.

But after Donald J. Trump was elected president, following a campaign filled with rhetoric against undocumented people, colleges became concerned about the future of the Sensitive Locations policy. The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement to colleges in November 2016 that said the policy would remain in effect.

However, in recent months, as scenes have unfolded of young immigrant children being separated from their parents and placed in detention centers, there are renewed doubts about how the current administration will treat undocumented college students.

We don’t feel a level of confidence and security on behalf of our students, said Dr. Miner, given the fact that we hear so many stories that would indicate that our own laws are not being honored.

In a statement last month, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said, Yes, the policy is still in place.

But Dr. Miner, as past chairman of the American Council on Education, which represents about 1,800 higher education institutions in the United States, said she and her colleagues had taken precautions. At her colleges and others, for example, any warrant from immigration officials must go directly to the college president for review and could be subject to a legal fight.

All of this is a sea change from just a few years ago, when many undocumented students were given temporary immunity from deportation after the Obama administration’s creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, in June 2012. An estimated 800,000 immigrants within a certain age range, who were brought to the United States as children, were allowed to remain as residents, attend school and obtain work permits.

The Trump administration effectively ended the program this year, and participants have been left in limbo as Congress considers an alternative, if any, and as challenges work their way through the courts.

Even before DACA, California had its own Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) in 2011, allowing those brought into the state without documentation as children to attend college and receive financial aid and in-state tuition benefits. At some community colleges, that means paying $46 per credit, instead of more than $200.

And now state lawmakers are considering a new bill, AB-2477, that could create even more support centers for undocumented college students.

But in the current political climate, undocumented students in other states have faced resistance. In April, the Arizona Supreme Court eliminated in-state tuition benefits for them, and similar programs face legal hurdles in several other states, according to a recent analysis.

There’s so much enmity that it’s looking very hopeless, honestly, said a mathematics student at Skyline College, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his identity. People talk about the whitelash to Obama, to the first black president, and this was bound to happen.

The student’s mother brought him to the United States from Mexico at age 13, when she was fleeing a violent husband. He worked at auto shops, warehouses and in manufacturing to support his mother and six siblings. Now, at 41, he has been able to get an associate degree and has ambitions for a bachelor’s.

He said he had often faced hostility as an undocumented person, but not at college. I don’t feel fearful when I’m at school, he said. I don’t feel my studying is threatened, at least not yet.

For Dr. Miner, the community college chancellor, the stakes are also personal. Her mother was undocumented, brought to the United States from Mexico at age 3 or 4 – in another era, she also would have been a Dreamer.

Her own fear of discrimination led her to never speak Spanish to us, even though that was her first language, so we never grew up bilingual, Dr. Miner said. She was of that generation of immigrants who were so concerned about their children being real Americans.

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Originally published by The Washington Post

Boston Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang is stepping down two years before the end of his contract after a three-year tenure marked by controversy and a new lawsuit that says the school district has shared student information with federal immigration officials.

Chang, who signed a five-year contract to run the 56,000-student district in 2015, said late Friday that he was negotiating a departure, and he left a farewell message on the district’s website that cited higher graduation and lower suspension rates among his accomplishments.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh released a statement saying that he and Chang had mutually agreed that there should be a change in leadership in the school district and that significant work remained to improve Boston schools. He did not mention the lawsuit, though it may have been the final straw for Chang.

Last year, Walsh blamed Chang in part when the Internal Revenue Service found irregularities in an audit of the city’s finances and fined Boston nearly $1 million. Walsh said Chang knew earlier than he did about the findings and did not tell him. In 2016, Chang was accused of botching a proposal to change start times for schools to allow older students to begin later. And the heralded Boston Latin School was accused by U.S. prosecutors of failing to seriously address allegations that students of color were being harassed.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and a coalition of students’ rights groups filed a lawsuit this week against Boston Public Schools in an effort to obtain public records about its practice of sharing student information with federal immigration officials, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), through the Boston Regional Intelligence Center. According to the committee, the Massachusetts supervisor of records has ordered the district to disclose the records, but district officials have not done so.

Asked about the lawsuit and the practice of sharing student information with immigration officials, a spokesman for the Boston district said officials would look at the suit when they received it and not comment until then.

Matt Cregor, education project director at the lawyers’ committee, said in an email that it was impossible to know exactly how many school districts are cooperating with ICE. He said in an email that the Boston Regional Intelligence Center is one of dozens of fusion centers that enable information-sharing between local and federal law enforcement agencies. Here’s a state-by-state list of the fusion centers, but it is not clear when and how often school security officials participate, he said.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently sparked her own controversy when she said during a hearing before Congress that schools and local communities could decide for themselves whether to alert ICE about undocumented students. After a public backlash, she said in another hearing that she does not think it is legal for teachers and principals to report students to immigration authorities.

Chang said in his farewell address that he had come to the United States as an immigrant from Taiwan 37 years ago and started in public schools without speaking a word of English, but that his teachers helped him succeed. He wrote, In this moment more than ever, I want every immigrant child to know that’s the country America strives to be, must be, and will be.

Before coming to Boston in 2015, he was an administrator in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and in 2016, joined Chiefs for Change, a group of current and former school leaders founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), who was a pioneer in school reform efforts based on using standardized test scores to evaluate students, schools and districts.

Students’ rights groups, with help from the nonprofit Center for Law and Education, had filed to obtain public records of the case of a student at East Boston High School was had been deported based in part on an incident in school that Boston School Police shared with ICE via the Boston Regional Intelligence Agency. According to the lawyers’ committee, the student got caught up in an incident at school in which two students were attempting to start a fight, but it never happened. An unsubstantiated gang allegation was used against the student, the committee said.

The Massachusetts supervisor of records agreed that the request for documents should be accepted but that the school district never turned them over, leading to the lawsuit.

An ‘unsuccessful fight’ should be referred to a principal’s office, not ICE, Cregor said in a statement.

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Originally published by The Washington Post

A Republican candidate for Kansas governor who has advised President Donald Trump is attacking a state law that helps young people living in the U.S. illegally go to state colleges, appealing to his party’s conservative base in a tough GOP primary race.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach tweeted recently that repealing the policy of allowing some young immigrants to pay the lower tuition rates reserved for legal state residents would stem the rising tide of tuition hikes. He backed off that questionable claim earlier this week but argued that the law subsidizes illegal immigration and is unfair to legal U.S. residents.

The law has split Republicans since its enactment in 2004. And of the eight major candidates, the only other to support its repeal is GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Democratic and independent candidates said the law helps young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children and accused Kobach of sowing political divisions.

But Kobach’s tweet – in the wake of proposals from state universities to raise tuition – followed a GOP primary for Georgia governor that became a contest of which candidate would be toughest on illegal immigration. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp advanced to a July 24 runoff after boasting in an ad about owning a big truck in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself.

That is a smart issue to talk about with Republican voters, Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist, said Thursday. Kobach’s probably not going to get those more centrist voters. He really needs to own that conservative vote.

Before being elected secretary of state in 2010, Kobach built a national profile as an advocate of tough national, state and local policies against illegal immigration. He was the most prominent Kansas elected official to endorse Trump before the state’s presidential caucuses in 2016.

Kobach has long criticized the 2004 tuition law, which applies to students who attend a Kansas high school for three or more years and apply for legal status. The Kansas Board of Regents said 670 such students enrolled in state universities, community colleges and technical colleges last fall.

Colyer said this week that he would sign a bill to repeal the law if it reached his desk.

I think Kansans would rather have a different priority, he said.

In-state tuition rates are considerably lower than the rates paid by out-of-state students, and Colyer’s administration estimated the current savings for in-state students to be $2.3 million. Kobach suggested a higher estimate of $4 million during a question-and-answer session with reporters this week.

You could take that $4 million and subsidize the tuitions of Kansans and U.S. citizens, Kobach said.

The regents have blamed tuition increases at state universities on past cuts in state funding, which is still nearly $30 million below its 2009 peak and far more than even Kobach’s estimated subsidy for immigrant students. Kobach acknowledged that tuition increases are a much bigger issue that can’t be solved solely by repealing the tuition law.

But Democratic candidate and former state Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty said that if the young immigrants were forced to pay the higher tuition, they would not attend college, costing the universities tuition dollars. He and fellow Democrats state Sen. Laura Kelly and ex-Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said the law helps young immigrants become contributing members of the workforce.

The idea that we would punish young people who are in this country through no fault of their own is inconsistent with our values, added independent candidate Greg Orman, a Kansas City-area businessman.

While Republican former state Sen. Jim Barnett voted against the law as a legislator, he said he would not support its repeal because the state should train young people everywhere possible.

GOP Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer’s campaign said he believes that instead of simply repealing the law, the state should ensure that every student receiving in-state tuition is a citizen or on a clear path to legal status.

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Originally published by The Washington Post

Civil rights groups slammed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for saying Tuesday that schools can decide whether to report undocumented students to immigration enforcement officials, saying her statements conflict with the law and could raise fears among immigrant students.

DeVos’s answers came during testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was at one time undocumented, pressed the secretary for her positions on immigration enforcement.

Inside the school, Espaillat asked, if a principal or a teacher finds out that a certain child is undocumented, or his or her family members are undocumented, do you feel that the principal or teacher is responsible to call [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and to have that family reported?

Sir, I think that’s a school decision, DeVos responded. That’s a local community decision. And again, I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate, and I urge this body to do its job and address or clarify where there is confusion around this.

Not so, say civil rights groups. The Supreme Court made clear in Plyler v. Doe that public schools have a constitutional obligation to provide schooling for children, regardless of immigration status. That means schools also cannot enforce measures that would deter undocumented children from registering. They cannot ask about immigration status. And according to the American Civil Liberties Union, they cannot report students or their families to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status, Lorella Praeli, the ACLU’s director of immigration policy and campaigns, said in a statement. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong.

The Supreme Court ruling has not prevented some states from attempting to bar undocumented children from their schools. California voters in 1994 passed Proposition 187, which required schools to kick out undocumented students and to report students they suspected of being undocumented to federal authorities, but the law was struck down in federal court.

Alabama in 2011 passed a measure requiring school districts to ask all students about their immigration status and report their findings to the state. The federal government and others challenged the law, saying it violated Plyler because it preceded an uptick in absenteeism among Latino students. A federal appellate court blocked its implementation two years later.

Legal experts said DeVos’s stance marks a major turnabout in the Education Department’s position on Plyler and contravenes the way federal courts – even in conservative jurisdictions – have interpreted the law. Under the Obama administration, Arne Duncan, who was education secretary, and Eric Holder, who was attorney general, issued guidance to schools reminding them of their obligation to educate all children, regardless of immigration status. And those officials warned schools that they would violate federal law if they required things an undocumented immigrant might lack, such as a U.S. birth certificate or a Social Security number.

We have become aware of student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status, they wrote. These practices contravene federal law.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said DeVos desperately needs competent legal advice.

Her testimony today about reporting students to ICE stems either from an astounding ignorance of the law or from an insupportable unwillingness to accurately advise local school districts, said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the group. Under the Plyler decision, Any public school or school district that denies an education to any undocumented child – whether by refusing to enroll, by limiting access to the programs and benefits provided to other students, or by reporting a child to ICE – has violated the United States Constitution.

Lily Eskelsen Garca, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, declared the matter settled constitutional law.

Betsy DeVos should know better, and to suggest otherwise only serves to frighten children, Eskelsen Garca said.

Asked to respond to the backlash, Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said: DeVos has repeatedly said that DACA students have the right to a K-12 education, as ruled on by the Supreme Court. Hill used the acronym for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides two-year, renewable work permits and deportation protections for about 690,000 dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children.

She has tremendous compassion for DACA students and has said repeatedly she hopes that Congress would do its job and give these students the certainty they deserve, Hill said.

Asked whether DeVos believed Plyler would permit schools to call immigration authorities on undocumented students, Hill added that the secretary’s position remains that schools must comply with Plyler and all other applicable law and regulation.

The exchange comes as the immigration debate reaches a fever pitch, with President Trump threatening to jail leaders of sanctuary cities and an increase in immigration enforcement. In some places, schools have also reassured community members that they will not permit immigration agents on school grounds, nor will they turn student records over to the immigration agency without a subpoena.

Historically, immigration agents have avoided schools. A 2011 memo advises agents to avoid enforcement activities at sensitive locations, including at schools, hospitals and churches.

Uncertainty around immigration laws – including the DACA program – looms large for schoolchildren and their parents. The Pew Research Center estimates 3.9 million schoolchildren had an unauthorized immigrant parent in 2014 – or 7.3 percent of all schoolchildren. About 725,000 of those children were unauthorized immigrants.

Espaillat also grilled DeVos about accounts of immigration agents arresting parents near schools. DeVos declined to say whether she supported the Trump administration’s enforcement actions.

We are a nation of laws and a nation of compassionate people, DeVos said. I think it’s important that we follow the laws of the land, and if it’s important that laws be changed, this body can do so.

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Originally published by Politico

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday that it’s up to individual schools to decide whether to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they suspect their students are undocumented.

That’s a school decision. It’s a local community decision, DeVos said during testimony before the House Education and the Workforce Committee, adding that we have laws and we also are compassionate. Her comments came in her first-ever appearance before the education panel, lasting close to three and a half hours.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) asked DeVos whether school principals and teachers had a responsibility to report undocumented students or their families to federal immigration authorities.

These issues are state and local issues to be addressed and dealt with, DeVos said.

President Donald Trump’s administration has gone after so-called sanctuary state laws, accusing some states and local officials of obstructing the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

The Department of Homeland Security has previously said that its policy generally discourages immigration enforcement in sensitive locations like schools, but ICE agents are permitted to enter schools under some circumstances.

DeVos acknowledged during her testimony that the Supreme Court has ruled that the government must provide funding to educate undocumented students in elementary and secondary schools. There are undocumented children in K-12 education today that we support and give education to on a daily basis, she said.

Civil rights groups on Tuesday blasted DeVos’ comments, which they said run counter to the Supreme Court’s 1982 ruling in Plyler v. Doe that guaranteed the rights of students to receive a public education regardless of their immigration status.

Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution, Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that DeVos’ comments could very well have a chilling effect on families seeking to attend and enroll in our public schools, and invite mischief from schools across the country.

The suggestion that individual schools should have discretion to determine if and when to report undocumented students flies in the face of well-settled and long-standing Supreme Court precedent which makes clear that no student should be denied the right to a public education based on their immigration status, Clarke said.

DeVos was also asked at Tuesday’s hearing about reports of immigration authorities arresting parents at schools.

I would just say we are both a nation of laws and we are a compassionate people, she said. And I think it’s important that we follow the laws of the land, and if it’s important that laws be changed I encourage this body to do so.

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Originally published by The New York Times

If African students at Bronx Community College need encouragement, they need only look so far as the president.

No, not the current occupant of the White House, who has denigrated the African continent, pursued an immigration ban that targets several predominantly Muslim countries and suggested that community colleges become vocational schools. The leader these students look up to is the president of the college, Dr. Thomas A. Isekenegbe, who was born in Nigeria and maintains an easy rapport with them.

Just as the Bronx has seen an explosion in its African population, Bronx Community College has seen its enrollment of African students climb to nearly 1,000 from 200 a decade ago. They go to the Bronx, which has one of the country’s largest concentration of Africans, for the same reasons previous immigrants did: to give their children a better life while toiling hard to support their extended families.

Administrators at the college say that the African students tend to earn better grades, in less time, than their classmates. And they do so in the face of everything from being demonized and dismissed by immigration hard-liners to being called hut-dwellers by the ignorant. Yet they are believers in the American dream, even if some Americans don’t believe in them.

They come here like sponges and want to soak up the knowledge, said Dr. Isekenegbe, who was appointed president of Bronx Community College three years ago. I have a lot of responsibility to them to be a role model. If you work hard and do the things you are supposed to, while there is no utopia in this world, this place is the closest to one. Despite all this talk, this is a country that if you have a good education, you will have the opportunity, someone will open the door. It’s important they see it is possible to ascend in American society.

This is not hype, but an acknowledgment of a community that has been growing in plain sight in neighborhoods like Morrisania and Highbridge. Some have escaped upheaval, like Paulin Dongomale, an engineering student who was forced to flee the Central African Republic. Others come right out of high school, joining fathers who arrived years before to work as cabdrivers or deliverymen to support their families back home. The experience can be life-changing, as Godwin Boaful discovered, when the young Ghanaian went from the Bronx to Brown University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry before entering Brown’s medical school.

What they share is a college where they have been made to feel not just welcome, but an important part of campus life. The college has been setting up programs to help them adjust culturally, if not academically, while also offering them chances to develop outside the classroom.


Bright Igbinigun followed his brother’s example, moving to New York from Nigeria to attend Bronx Community College. Already a poet and a pastor, he is studying political science with an eye on law school, saying he wants to apply his knowledge in ways that could help his homeland. CreditDavid Gonzalez/The New York Times

If you engage with the campus community, doors will open for you, Dr. Isekenegbe said. If all you do is take the 4 train, run to class and run back, you’re not going to be successful. You have to become engaged, know your professors and join clubs. It expands your network and develops leadership.

Many of the African students – like other immigrants – have focused on science and technology, as well as programs in nursing that provide skills that are in demand, especially in the Bronx, where the health care industry is the largest employer. But in more recent years there has been an uptick in those studying political science or human services, giving them skills that are applicable in their home countries.

Bright Igbinigun, who in addition to his studies and work as a Pentecostal pastor, recently published a book of poems titled I Must Return Home. He said his experience at Bronx Community helped him realize the importance of civic engagement. Originally from Nigeria, Mr. Igbinigun, 24, is studying political science with an eye on law school.

I have a great passion for the situation in my country, Nigeria, he said. There is a lot going on there politically and economically, and I would like to go home and help reshape the situation. This is not something just for Nigerians, but to encourage everyone in the diaspora, whether they are Pakistani or Dominican, to realize the importance of service.

Victoria McEwen learned those lessons even before she moved to the Bronx in 2010 to join her husband. She was born in Sierra Leone, where civil war upended the family’s life. Now at Bronx Community, which her husband also attended, she is studying human services.

I got my lessons from my parents during the war, Ms. McEwen, 44, said. My mother helped others, and our house became a refugee center. People would come over and we’d share our food. Before I came here, I wanted to study accounting. But the desire has grown in me to help people. Looking at the homeless in this country, or just at what people have to go through, my passion to help has increased.

What has also grown is her determination not to be distracted or discouraged by off-the-cuff remarks from President Trump. Besides, she’s too busy studying.

That’s his opinion, she said. It doesn’t matter. I know why I am here. If he checked what he was saying, he would know why America is what it is. Why it is full of diversity. What I say to other Africans here is just be focused. Know who you are. Stand up for what you believe.

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