In the spring of 2007, I was sitting in my next-door neighbors’ house with their teenage daughter, talking about a school project. Suddenly, our eyes locked on the TV screen. We watched a news story about an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raid that had just taken place not too far away. The young woman looked at me and said, “I wonder if they will take my dad away, too.”
I have never forgotten that moment. It came on the heels of massive protests against a bill in Congress that would have made it a crime to assist unauthorized immigrants in any way. At the time, a Republican representative from Ohio voted against the measure in part because it created “a new group of ‘good Samaritan felons,’” setting criminal penalties for offering an unauthorized immigrant shelter, food or even a drink of water.
When the bill passed the House, immigrants and their allies took to the streets in record numbers to protest. The bill failed in the Senate. And the memories linger on. I recently attended a local meeting where 20-somethings shared childhood memories of talking with their parents about the marches.
‘Trump Doesn’t Like Immigrants’
Last week, I joined my daughter’s second-grade class on a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. As the yellow school bus bumped along the highway, the little girl sitting next to me said, “Trump doesn’t like immigrants. I wonder if he will make my dad go away.”
Everything old is new—and scary—again. While the Trump travel ban has galvanized protesters to take to the airports, another executive order issued last week revives many of the worst features of the bill that died in Congress a decade ago.
Although the travel ban struck a nerve because it undermines core American values, the executive order I’m talking about could have much farther-reaching effects on neighborhoods like mine—Back of the Yards, Chicago—and schools like my daughter’s.
Undocumented Students Have a Right to K-12 Education
Last Wednesday, the White House announced an executive order strengthening internal enforcement of immigration law. It calls for hiring an additional 10,000 immigration officers. It could also potentially shut off federal funds to “sanctuary cities,” local governments that shield unauthorized immigrants from federal immigration law enforcement.
While the focus now is on Department of Justice grants that might stop flowing to sanctuary cities and counties, it’s not impossible that Title I money—a federal grant—could also be withheld from their schools. That wouldn’t be an easy lift politically, but we’re only a week in and the new administration has not shown much willingness to abide by conventional politics.
Mayors in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, among others, have declared their intention to continue to shield unauthorized immigrants from deportation. But just one day after the order was issued, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Jimenez ordered county jails to hold undocumented inmates—even ones arrested, not convicted of a crime, and able to post bail—so that immigration authorities can obtain warrants to detain and eventually deport them. Only time will tell whether other cities will hold fast to their commitments or change course.
There’s also a small phrase that our current president might try to drive a truck through. Section 6 of the order calls for the Department of Homeland Security to collect fines and penalties from “aliens unlawfully present in the United States and from those who facilitate their presence in the United States.” It’s totally unclear what it might mean to facilitate their presence, leaving the door open to prosecute humanitarian helpers.
However, a landmark 1982 Supreme Court decision established that undocumented students have a right to K-12 education. How that established law squares with the new federal policy would be up to a judge to decide.
In the meantime, in my neighborhood, it’s déjà vu all over again.