By Thomas Kennedy
In January, Florida’s Miami-Dade County became the first municipality to comply with Donald Trump’s threat to cut off federal grants from cities that refuse to force local police to enforce immigration law. This decision was reaffirmed when the Miami-Dade County Commission voted to uphold the Mayor’s decision by a 9-3 margin.
The immigrant community in Miami feels anxiety regarding how this change of policy will directly affect them and one place where this is being felt is in our public Schools. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows that the children of immigrant families, some who are US citizens, fear the possibility of being separated from their families and also experience bullying and harassment by other students.
The report also documents how African-American, Latino and Muslim children asked teachers if their families would be deported under the Trump administration. The wall along the southern Mexican border is a recurrent theme brought up by in many of these incidents of harassment.
This environment of aggression and fear has led to a decline in student attendance in some southern Florida schools as well as their performance. It is sad that the education of these children is being hindered because the bully who is the President scapegoats minority communities for his own political gain.
So now, the fight against the Trump Agenda will become more localized, as small victory after small victory in commission chambers and civic boards will shape policies that will soften the blow our communities will suffer under the current administration.
Consider what is happening in Miami-Dade County schools. Under federal regulations, a school must “provide a nondiscriminatory environment that is conducive to learning.” When speech produces an environment that hinders the students’ ability to learn, it is time for educators to step in and protect the safety of these students according to federal and state civil rights laws.
The Miami-Dade County Public School Board recognized this concern and at the behest of the community, has taken steps to protect its most vulnerable students. Last week, the school board members voted on two resolutions that designate the County schools a safe zone from the aggressive immigration policies that the Trump Administration is pushing.
One resolution proposed by school board member Lubby Navarro seeks to review current laws and policies to determine what else our public schools can do to protect immigrant students. Another by member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingal states that the School Board will oppose any state legislative platform that eliminates funding meant to assist refugee and immigrant families.
The motion is a direct response to a bill before the Florida State Legislature (HB 427) that would end the State’s participation in a federal refugee program, eliminating benefits for refugee families and causing the school district to lose millions in funding for English and vocational training programs serving refugees at its adult education centers. Another anti-immigrant bill seeks to end in-state tuition for public universities in the state, making higher education prohibitively expensive for undocumented students.
Regardless, the fact that Republicans in the Florida legislature and in Washington seek to actively hurt students in public schools is reprehensible. These children are the seeds that will move our society forward. But instead, these children have the weight of the world on their shoulders, anxious about the possibility that their families could be taken away from them. Our schools should be a safe space for all students to make the best of themselves.
Our President’s actions will unfortunately shape the formative years of some of our most vulnerable youth.
Thomas Kennedy is a writing fellow for the Center for Community Change Action.