By Erin Albanese
Kent School Services Network coordinator Erika VanDyke wasn’t sure what the turnout would be for a recent “Know Your Rights” event for immigrants at Wyoming’s West Elementary School. Staff had purposely not asked people to register, and they advertised it as a basic community-resource event because they knew families could easily be scared away.
“In the current political climate there’s a lot of fear,” VanDyke said, adding that she’s heard from parents and community members who aren’t sure right now what their protections include. “There’s a lot of fear from our families. As a KSSN school, we want to be a place where families can come with questions and get answers.”
About 15 people attended the districtwide event, aimed at providing members of the Hispanic community with knowledge about responding to immigration officials and preparing for encounters.
Immigration arrests are up 38 percent in the first three months of the Trump administration. Wyoming Public Schools’ Hispanic student population is about 40 percent.
The event was presented by VanDyke, English-language learner teacher Ruth Rolff, and representatives from Justice For Our Neighbors, a United Methodist immigration ministry in West Michigan; the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan; and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
Supporting the Community
Presenters defined immigrant rights at traffic stops, and what to do if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials come to the house, workplace or stop someone in public. They stressed creating an emergency response plan, keeping all documents in an easily accessible place, speaking to an immigration lawyer to assess individual immigration status, and having a plan to protect one’s family.
They also explained how to grant power of attorney and how to tell whether a search warrant is real. They emphasized not signing anything without speaking with an attorney if arrested.
VanDyke said she’s had families call her to ask whether they should go to immigration check-ins.
“They have called and said ‘I don’t know if I should go or not,'” she said. “It’s not my job to tell them what to do, but it’s my job to say ‘Here are the resources, here are people you can talk to so you can make that decision.’
“We want to make sure families have information, because that’s part of being a community school,” she added. “For me it’s critical that particularly with this population, that they have access to this knowledge.”
Participants asked questions on topics ranging from driving legally in the U.S. to situations involving U.S.-born children in undocumented families.
Rolff said schools are supposed to be protected spaces where ICE can’t enter, like churches. Still, much is uncertain.
“Even though families trust us, there’s fear,” she said. “The schools are here to help them. Our No. 1 priority is the kids, which means the parents as well. … If parents have any questions, they can come to the school. If we don’t have the answers, we will do our best to find the answers for them.”
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