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In what’s been called a “disgusting act of intimidation“, federal agents from the Customs and Immigration Service showed up at a public school in Queens last week looking for information on a fourth grader, before being turned away by a school safety agent and an administrator.
To be fair, the agents were seeking to verify that the student was enrolled at the school in relation to a separate query. The student was not the subject of their inquiry, and they never saw or spoke to the student.
Still — couldn’t they have just called the school? Wouldn’t it have been a lot less work for them to not show up in person? As immigration attorney Naresh Gehi told a local news outlet:
Without the consent [of the school], you can’t just show up at the school and say, ‘Hey, I want to just investigate a case.’ The right way to do it is to have a very polite meeting, or send a document to the school to see if the school actually wants to consent to this.
The simple optics of federal immigration agents showing up at an elementary school is pretty chilling — and not surprisingly, immigrants and families in the area are shaken. As New York Daily News columnist Shaun King wrote:
I spoke with many of my undocumented friends here in New York, and beyond, and they each said, without fail, that the story has spooked undocumented families — who are already fearful of random checkpoints and surprise raids. […]
If undocumented families, in New York or elsewhere, now choose to keep their kids home from school, in the name of protecting them from the possibility of an encounter with a federal agent, everybody loses — particularly the kids. As a parent, though, even the remote thought that a federal agent may attempt to engage my children in any way whatsoever, is disconcerting. I’d hate to see a single child not sent to school because of this incident, but I’d certainly understand it.
New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio met with DHS Secretary John Kelly yesterday and discussed the incident, but reports only noted that “the Secretary said that the agents were not there for enforcement action and that DHS does not target schools in such efforts.”
Except that’s not quite true. A 13-year-old girl made national news in March when she videotaped ICE’s arrest of her dad on their way to school. ICE agents have periodically conducted raids nearby and around schools. It’s not for nothing that schools across the nation have had to issue directives instructing school staff not to let ICE agents on campus.
Which means that we’ll ask John Kelly a question that’s come up time and time again: does he now know what his immigration agents are doing? Or does he not care that agents are terrorizing immigrant families, making communities less safe, and contributing to a fear that keeps the children of immigrants out of schools?
Remember, in Oklahoma this week, a state legislator suggested turning over kids who don’t speak English “over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens. And do we really have to educate non-citizens?” This is the kind of discrimination and prejudice that immigrant families already have to deal with. Why would immigration agents — and Secretary Kelly — further inflame these fears by barging around investigating fourth graders?