Fresno Unified proposes to protect undocumented students ‘to fullest extent allowed by law’

Fresno Unified will be a safe place for undocumented students

Fresno Unified trustees announce their "safe place" resolution for undocumented students at Roosevelt High on March 1.
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Fresno Unified trustees announce their "safe place" resolution for undocumented students at Roosevelt High on March 1.

A resolution proposed by Fresno Unified on Wednesday vows to protect undocumented students “to the fullest extent allowed by law.”

The “safe place” resolution says the district will not participate in any immigration enforcement activities, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will not be allowed to enter schools without complying with legal requirements. The resolution also says the district will not release a student to ICE agents without the consent of their parent; school resource officers will not enforce violations of immigration law; and schools will help provide resources for families facing deportation.

Fresno Unified joins more than 25 districts across the state that have adopted safe-haven resolutions at the urging of the California Department of Education, reaffirming existing laws that protect student data in light of deportation fears since the election of President Donald Trump, who is ramping up efforts to deport undocumented people.

The Fresno Unified proposal takes that a step further, directly stating what it will and will not do, including forbidding school staff from inquiring about students’ immigration status or disclosing any information about citizenship unless required by law or court order.

“The district will not enter into agreements with state or local law enforcement agencies, ICE or any other federal agency for the enforcement of federal immigration law except as required by law,” the resolution states.

Students’ ability to achieve is undermined by the removal of their family members during ICE enforcement activities.

Proposed Fresno Unified resolution

Fresno Unified trustees stood alongside Fresno City Council members, higher education representatives and other community leaders at Roosevelt High School, saying that while the resolution is an affirmation of policies already in place, it is necessary to assure students that they are safe.

“Over the last few months, we have heard from our community members. We have ourselves spoken to students and parents alike, and there is no denying the deep concern, unrest and fear some of our community feels on issues of immigration,” Fresno Unified Trustee Claudia Cazares said. “As a matter of fact, today we invited students to join us and be participants, and out of fear, they told us just a couple of minutes ago they would not be joining us.”

Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said she is also proposing that the school board provide counseling specifically for students who have witnessed a deportation, and wants the district to help families devise a plan in case of family separation.

Jonasson Rosas said Fresno Unified is facing a time of “anxiety, anguish and instability,” and pointed to a decline in California Dream Act applications, which provide financial aid to undocumented college students. Fresno parents and students have voiced concerns about supplying their information for the application this year, fearing it could be used against them for deportations later.

“Don’t let hate from others keep you from your dreams. Don’t give people that hate you or want to see you fail the power to make those decisions for you,” she said. “While this resolution is important as a symbol of our commitment to our students and their families, it can’t stop there. We must do more.”

While this resolution is important as a symbol of our commitment to our students and their families, it cant stop there.

Fresno Unified Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas

Lilia Becerian, an undocumented parent of a 16-year-old Roosevelt High student, said that while her daughter is a U.S. citizen, she is in constant fear that something will happen to her friends or family.

“She cries for her fellow students,” Becerian said through a translator. “Now my daughter will no longer be worried.”

Despite school board president Brooke Ashijan’s vocal support for Trump and his previous concerns about the legality of such a resolution, he gave an emotional speech Wednesday, saying that as someone of Armenian descent, and as a Mormon, he is morally obligated to support the resolution.

“I call upon government to bring about comprehensive immigration reform – something that the last four administrations, whether you’re on the red side or the blue side, have failed to do since the days of Reagan. Now is the time,” Ashjian said. “Fresno Unified is in the business of children. Children, more than any other people, are affected by the choices of others. Children do not choose to be born or where they’re going to live or which political boundaries they fall within or which nation claims them or what color they are.”

Ashjian said he hopes all students, regardless of immigration status, will grow up to “exceed all of us in wisdom, justice and compassion, and maybe just maybe, transcend their elders’ political, geographical and ideological boundaries.”

“May God bless our leaders with the resolve to reach across both aisles for the betterment of our children,” he said. “That’s my prayer.”

The school board will vote on whether to pass the resolution at the March 8 school board meeting.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays