Bakersfield City School District trustees could join others around the state Thursday by declaring it a “safe haven” for undocumented students, a move that immigration experts say is mostly “political posturing,” but critically important in quelling fears among vulnerable communities in uncertain times.
The resolution, which will be voted on Thursday and was proposed by board President Lillian Tafoya, establishes that student records will be withheld from outside agencies and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will not be allowed to enter district properties without superintendent approval.
“The majority of our students are Latino, and we have a lot of families that are uncomfortable and feel unsafe because of the political rhetoric that they hear over and over again,” Tafoya said. “We want to validate that we’re a district that cares about our kids and we’ll do everything we can to ensure they feel welcomed and safe, and we’ll go about our business of teaching and learning.”
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson urged school districts in December to declare themselves “safe havens” and that no student records could be released to federal officials without parental consent.
BCSD’s safe haven proposal comes about a week after the Department of Homeland Security created guidelines based on President Donald Trump’s January executive order that gives ICE agents broad discretion in deporting undocumented immigrants.
Historically, ICE agents have not stepped foot on school grounds to deport people because they’re considered “sensitive locations” by the agency, and are largely off-limits.
“While we’re not in the business in engaging in speculation, I would underscore that, at the present time, that guidance remains in effect,” ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.
Guidelines created by DHS late last month don’t impact “sensitive locations,” said Win Eaton, a Bakersfield-based certified specialist in immigration law.
“A lot of it is political posturing, and necessary political posturing to alleviate the concerns of terrified families and parents,” Eaton said.
Tafoya acknowledged that the resolution is a “cautionary measure.”
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. At this point it’s really not an issue we’ve had to deal with,” Tafoya said.
A Greenfield Union School District spokesman said its board has been discussing the possibility of introducing a similar “safe haven” resolution this year.
Kern High School District officials said it's their policy to not release student records without parental consent, a court order or valid subpoena, and that the district does not maintain records pertaining to citizenship status.
“Currently, the KHSD is monitoring the guidance and actions on both the federal and state levels, and will continue to closely evaluate these issues and their impact on KHSD students, families and the district itself. The most important thing for the KHSD is that we provide quality instruction within a safe learning environment for all of our students,” spokeswoman Lisa Krch said.
When asked about whether KHSD would adopt a “safe haven” resolution like BCSD, trustee Mike Williams said the district would “follow the law,” and cooperate with federal agents.
“I’ve said this many times in issues that I disagree with: We will follow the law,” Williams said. “That’s a tough thing when it comes to immigration, so I don’t know what we’ll be asked to do, but I’d hope that as a district we’ll always cooperate with the law. And if the law needs to be changed, then let’s fight to have the law changed, but we can’t pick and choose which laws we’re going to live by.”