Immigration advocates asked Fresno Unified trustees to make schools “safe havens” for undocumented students and their parents, but school board President Brooke Ashjian says those concerns are out of the district’s control.
Districts across California have labeled themselves safe havens at the urging of State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, aiming to remind families about laws that protect student records from questions about residency status and that forbid Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering schools.
“They should not be thinking about if they are going to be deported or if their parents are going to be deported,” Luis Ojeda, representing Californians for Justice, said at Wednesday night’s school board meeting.
More than 350 people have signed a petition drafted by Latino advocacy group Mi Familia Vota calling for Fresno Unified to declare itself a safe haven amid concerns about federal immigration policies. The petition says a resolution is necessary because students feel “vulnerable, scared, and worried about what the future may hold for them.”
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The school system has no business being in the immigration business.
FUSD President Brooke Ashjian
Fresno Unified will vote next month on whether to become a safe haven, and while Ashjian says a group of trustees is working a proclamation to show support for undocumented students, he is unconvinced that adopting the “safe haven” label would have real meaning.
“Here’s the reality of the situation: We don’t have a police force. We don’t have the ability to stop immigration from coming onto our schools,” Ashjian said Thursday in an editorial boad meeting with The Bee. “The school system has no business being in the immigration business. That’s not our business. This is not our fight.”
Ashjian – a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump – said he thinks concerns about immigration raids in schools are unfounded, but that he’s not willing to give people “false hope” with a resolution promising to prevent it.
They should not be thinking about if they are going to be deported or if their parents are going to be deported.
Luis Ojeda, Californians for Justice
“I won’t say to them, ‘Immigration (agents) will never come into your school and they will never grab you.’ I know personally that will never happen. I don’t believe in the farthest thoughts of my mind that that will ever happen in California or the United States – that immigration will come grab kids out of school. That’s a total fallacy,” he said. “But on the same token, we can’t provide protection from that. People want some sort of assurance and hope, but we can’t give them false hope. That does nothing.”
Ashjian says he’s unsure if he will vote in favor of such a resolution, but said it would be un-American to allow ICE to remove students from schools for deportation. He also voiced concern about the district losing federal funding, echoing Fresno Mayor Lee Brand’s reasons for refusing to become a sanctuary city.
“The majority of these people are decent. They work for me. Some of them are my partners. They’re great people. They’re family people. We can’t do that to those people, as Americans,” Ashjian said of mass deportations. “It’s the criminals that they want to get rid of, and all of us want criminals gone – I don’t care if they’re legal or illegal. I don’t want a criminal here; lock ’em up.”