Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District

August 27, 2019; Chalkbeat

After US Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested almost 700 immigrants on Mississippi’s first day of school, the Detroit Public Schools Community District has vowed to do all they can to protect immigrant families with students under their watch. The schools they oversee, they have declared, are a sanctuary.

The district has committed to not collect information about immigration status, and Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti contends, “I’ll be the first to put myself at the front door to say [to federal customs agents], ‘You’re not coming into our schools.’”

The policy, long advocated by community leaders, was formally and loudly voted in by the school board last week. Following the vote, the policy was quickly made usable with a set of legal protocols that instruct various school personnel on how to handle situations that may arise.

“We want our students to come to school and focus on teaching and learning, and not on whether the federal government, or any kind of authority, is going to rip them out of their schools,” Dr. Vitti said to a crowd of stakeholders who support the policy. “We have drawn a line in the sand to say that when children come into our schools, they are safe.”

The nearby Hamtramck School District has a similar policy, as do school districts in other cities, including Miami, New York, Des Moines, and Chicago.

Chalkbeat reports that many in Michigan worry about the effect of the toxic environment on immigrant students’ ability to learn and on community cohesion more generally:

The Detroit district isn’t the only local agency changing its policies. Earlier this month, under pressure from community groups, the city of Dearborn ended a cooperative agreement with immigration authorities. At the state capital, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, recently announced her support for a measure that would allow undocumented people to obtain driver’s licenses.

The district has been under pressure for years to publicly reassure undocumented Detroiters that they would be safe on school grounds. Shortly after Trump took office, teachers unions and others in the district rallied behind a sanctuary policy.

Education Dive provides other examples of policies schools have adopted to respond to the needs and fears of immigrant families, even in cases where state policies do not encourage or prohibit declaring sanctuary, and the National Immigration Law Center provides additional guidance and resources here. These kinds of resources are especially important when local conditions differ.—Ruth McCambridge