By JOSEPH DE LA CRUZ
New York City School Chancellor Carmen Fariña visited P.S. 58 in Maspeth this week to assure parents that their children would be safe from immigration agents after two officials were turned away when they attempted to inquire about a student.
“In our schools we protect our students and our families and want to reassure parents that no information is ever given to any federal agent,” Farina said.
The chancellor, who visited the school last Monday, stressed that any immigration official who attempts to obtain information on students would not only be denied but also kept outside the school building while the principal seek counsel from Department of Education’s legal division.
“We are assuring parents that not only were the agents never allowed beyond the front door, that in the future they will actually be kept out on the sidewalks,” she said.
The two agents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were stopped at the front door of the Maspeth, Queens school when they tried to enter the building on May 11.
Farina said the education department would be sending more guidelines to city schools so employees, “from the school custodian to the highest level of school administration,” know what to do if immigration agents arrive.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the two officials who visited the school were not agents but representatives who were only there to determine whether a student was enrolled at P.S. 58 as a follow up for a benefits request.
They are officers who do not have enforcement powers or carry warrants. Only Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents can carry out those tasks. At no time did they request to speak with the child, school officials said.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the officers were able to confirm with the school’s administration that the child did not attend that school.
The Department of Homeland Security noted on Twitter that the its officers “were not barred from the property nor asked to leave.”
“I think it was a protocol that DHS was following that probably wasn’t the best considered in light of all the fear that exists at the community level right now,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on a live appearance of NY1’s “Inside City Hall.” “If an agent had to pursue information for an immigration application, well, that’s fine, but I think there’s better ways to do it than appearing at the door of a school.”
Schools in communities with large immigrant populations have been on edge since President Donald Trump took office and ordered stricter enforcement of immigration laws.
One school that has focused on the issue is P.S. 65 in the Cypress Hills section of Brooklyn.
“It’s a concerning issue because this is an immigrant driven community,” said Daysi Garcia, the school’s principal. “More most of our students come from immigrant families and half of them are immigrants themselves and who knows how many of them are here legally.”
Most of the residents in the community come from the Dominican Republic or other Latin American countries. Nearby neighborhoods such as Bushwick have already experienced federal immigration raids in several local businesses.
“We’ve had some parents that have consulted with us about possibly pulling their kids out of school,” Garcia said. “We had to reassure them that students are safe and don’t necessarily run the risk of being detained by immigration enforcement.”
Teachers have held class discussions about what to do if students go home and find that their parents are not there.
“We try not to worry them but we want them to know that the school is the first place they should go to if they’re parents aren’t home,” Samantha Quinones, an elementary school teacher, said. “We try not to scare them with ICE so we just tell them you know, ‘if you forgot your keys or no one is home yet from work’, we make it a universal issue rather than just ICE.”
Students in communities like Cypress Hills are often English language learners. Worrying about deportation is a distraction teachers argue their students cannot afford, especially during state examination time.
“My students have a hard enough time trying to keep up with the curriculum. They don’t need to worry about men and women in suits with guns coming to take them,” Quinones said. “I mean even the parents, some work two jobs and can’t even be as involved in their child’s academic lives because of time constraints and now they have to deal with the thought of having their family deported back to their country.”
Some students who were not born here have already gotten past the difficulties of assimilation and are now familiar with many of the American customs they have grown to love.
“Could you imagine being taken from a place that you’ve already gotten to know and love most if not all your life,” she said.
The Department of Education is taking steps to educate not just staff and faculties at schools across the city but also parents. Letters were sent to tell parents what the city’s school policies are, counsel was provided to help advise parents who may need a better understanding of how to deal with immigration situations.
“We have some resources like workshops that have been provided to us by the DOE that we can refer to parents who have concerns,” John Galassi, guidance counselor at P.S. 65,, said. “It eases the worries of these parents to know that the school community has their back on this.”
The city had previously ordered school employees not to allow immigration agents or FBI agents into their buildings back in February.
Officials said if Immigration and Customs Enforcement obtain a valid warrant, they’ll be allowed to execute it, but restricted only to the contents of the warrant a judge has signed off on.
New York City is considered a sanctuary city that has refused to cooperate with federal immigration crackdowns. had signed an order to stop federal funding to sanctuary cities if they fail to adhere to those policies but a judge in San Francisco blocked the order in April.
“We don’t expect for ICE to come looking for students at our schools, although with this administration you never know,” Garcia said. “But if they come we’ll be ready to deal with them.”