A petition is calling for Fresno Unified to declare itself a “safe haven” district to protect undocumented students amid concerns about federal immigration policies.
By Friday, nearly 200 people had signed onto a resolution led by Mi Familia Vota – a Latino advocacy group – that calls for the Fresno Unified school board to stand by laws that forbid Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering schools without a superintendent’s permission, and to keep data about students’ legal status confidential. The resolution also calls for the district to host “a day of understanding” and to promote tolerance.
“The national presidential election has resulted in thousands of students and families in Fresno expressing fear, sadness and concerns for student safety, heightened because of intolerant rhetoric made over the course of the 2016 presidential race,” the resolution states. “Youth and families across the district have already experienced increased levels of hate speech based on their ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation since the election.”
The national presidential election has resulted in thousands of students and families in Fresno expressing fear, sadness and concerns for student safety.
Mi Familia Vota resolution
In December, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson encouraged all California schools to become “safe havens,” pointing to several existing laws that protect undocumented students. Current laws require schools to enroll children regardless of their citizenship status and prohibit schools from disclosing student information to law enforcement without the consent of a parent or a court order.
Districts including Los Angeles Unified and Sacramento Unified have so far passed similar resolutions, but it’s unclear if Fresno Unified, California’s fourth largest, will do the same.
Fresno Unified school board President Brooke Ashjian – a staunch supporter of Trump – has refused to comment on the matter. Ashjian recited the Pledge of Allegiance at Trump’s campaign stop in Fresno in May, and has been vocal about his support for Trump’s policies.
Last week, newly elected Mayor Lee Brand said that Fresno will not become a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, unlike dozens of cities across the state that are offering support and protections to those residents.
“We are hoping that this resolution will go through with no obstacles,” said Samuel Molina, state director of Mi Familia Vota. “Ultimately politics shouldn’t be getting in the way of children’s safety and education.”
Ultimately politics shouldn’t be getting in the way of children’s safety and education.
Samuel Molina, Mi Familia Vota
In a memo to school board members on Friday, Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson recommended that a modified version of the resolution be placed on the Feb. 22 school board meeting agenda.
The modified version would include language from the Mi Familia Vota resolution “while also reaffirming our continued commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Hanson says in the memo.
At a school board meeting last week, Hanson voiced support for undocumented families and students, and the district offered students counseling after Trump was elected in November. Nearly 70 percent of Fresno Unified students are Latino.
“As a district, we are here to support all of our students and their families, and a lot of them are uncertain at a time like this,” Hanson, who plans to leave the district in August, said on Wednesday. “There are residents in our community who are concerned about what the future may bring, and our first response should be to listen.”
Willie Lopez, of the Fresno Immigration Coalition, stood before the school board at the meeting, holding up his green card and asking trustees to pass the resolution.
“I was one of those students who had that fear of being arrested by immigration. I was very scared it would happen to us because it happened to our neighbors,” Lopez said. “There was fear at school – I would always be concerned.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Madera Unified had approved a ‘safe haven’ resolution. The issue was discussed at a Dec. 13 board meeting, but no action was taken.