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

For Release: Tuesday, October 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, LULAC 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.”

About the initiative:

Standing United to Protect the Rights of Immigrant Students and Their Families

It is imperative that all school district officials and employees understand that if they report students to ICE, or otherwise discriminate against students on the basis of national origin, they could face liability for violating the law. The law is clear. Denying children who reside in the United States a K-12 public education based on their immigration status, or the perceived status of their parent and or legal guardian, is illegal. K-12 schools may not do anything to deny, deter or chill access to education, including by reporting, or threatening to report, children to ICE. These principles were established by the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doeand by federal laws, and cannot be changed by the secretary of education, the attorney general, states, local law enforcement, school districts, a single school or any individual.

List of Partners:

  1. Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF)
  2. Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  3. Hispanic Federation
  4. League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
  5. National Immigration Law Center (NILC)
  6. American Association of University Women (AAUW)
  7. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA)
  8. Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA)
  9. National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)
  10. Hispanic Heritage Foundation
  11. UnidosUS (formerly NCLR)
  12. Pride At Work (PAW)
  13. Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)
  14. United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI)
  15. Voto Latino
  16. Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO)
  17. New York Immigration Coalition
  18. MANA, a National Latina Organization
  19. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
  20. National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH)
  21. National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
  22. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
  23. UndocuBlack Network
  24. National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
  25. United We Dream (UWD)
  26. National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA)
  27. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  28. Advancement Project
  29. Center for Community Change
  30. Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM)
  31. Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (ALAS)
  32. National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)
  33. National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL)
  34. National Immigration Forum
  35. Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
  36. Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
  37. TESOL International Association
  38. Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice
  39. Promise Arizona
  40. Arkansas United Community Coalition
  41. Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights
  42. Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas
  43. Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network
  44. Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition
  45. Colorado People’s Alliance
  46. Junta for Progressive Action
  47. Florida Immigrant Coalition
  48. Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
  49. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
  50. Sunflower Community Action
  51. Maine People’s Alliance
  52. Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
  53. Michigan United
  54. Nebraska Appleseed
  55. Progressive Leadership Alliance for Nevada
  56. New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrant Rights
  57. Somos Un Pueblo Unido
  58. El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos
  59. Make the Road NY
  60. Latin American Coalition
  61. Causa Oregon
  62. Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste
  63. Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition
  64. Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
  65. Workers Defense Project
  66. Texas Organizing Project
  67. Comunidades Unidas / Communities United
  68. OneAmerica
  69. Voces de la Frontera
  70. CASA
  71. Center for Popular Democracy
  72. People’s Action
  73. National Partnership for New Americans

Visit: www.aft.org/immigration for more information. Click here to download the one pager on Plyer Rights.

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.

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