Wake County superintendent tries to ease ICE fears of undocumented families

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- With fear and confusion swirling among Wake County's undocumented families over the recent crackdowns by federal immigration officials, many of them came to Tuesday night's Wake County school board meeting in hopes the district would send a message that is a safe space.

"Quite honestly, it's a lot of collective fear," said Fernando Martinez, an immigrant and local organizer now helping to raise his brother's children after their father was recently deported to El Salvador.

One by one, Martinez and a group of parents, student and teachers told the school board that the ICE crackdown in North Carolina last month, that left over 200 people detained, is paralyzing families. They said children are afraid to go to school for fear their parents will be taken by ICE while they're gone.

"A lot of our kids in our community feel like the schools are the only safe space and we would like the adults to ensure that that is true," said Martinez, whose two nephews and niece are enrolled in WCPSS.

To reassure Martinez and the others, WCPSS Superintendent Cathy Moore spoke in Spanish and English and said she's alerted principals and sent written guidance to every school about what the district will and will not do when it comes to immigration status.

Moore said school resource officers are never assigned immigration enforcement duties, and principals must notify the superintendent any time an immigration official tries to enter a school.

Moore stressed that hasn't happened yet, but said, "However, we felt it was important principals feel confident of how to handle immigration issues given recent community feedback and board discussion."

WCPSS School Board Chair Dr. Jim Martin cited Supreme Court precedent to try and ease anxieties; a 1982 ruling on undocumented students and their rights to public education.

"(The ruling) held that public school districts can not deny undocumented students from receiving a free public education," Martin said.

Martinez and his group were grateful to the board but still want them to go further.

They're calling for the district to bar principals and teachers from collaborating with ICE, and, if an immigration official comes to campus with a warrant, they want the school to ensure that warrant is signed by a judge.
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