Portland Family Separated on the Way to School: Why School Zones Must Be Designated Safe Zones

Portland Family Separated on the Way to School: Why School Zones Must Be Designated Safe Zones

On February 19, 2020, in Portland, Oregon, a father was driving his high school student to the bus stop when he was pulled over by federal immigration agents. The father was stopped and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials while the school bus was loading students onto the bus on the opposite side of the street. This event was clearly traumatic for the family who was confronted by ICE, but also for every student on the bus witnessing this event.

We believe that safety at school and on the way to school is foundational. Safe Routes to School must encompass safety from speeding traffic as well as protection from targeted immigration enforcement, and school zone protections must extend to the route to school.

His family has been connected with Latino Network, an organization that the district partners with that provides wrap-around services to LatinX families to ensure safe housing and basic needs, according to Tualatin-Tigard superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith. But the family is likely to face distress and hardship in the future as a result of the traumatic family separation that they experienced without warning on the way to school.

As an organization that is devoted to healthy kids and healthy places, our work focuses on the health and wellbeing of kids of all races, income levels, and abilities and creating healthy communities for everyone. Separating children from their parents, which inflicts deep trauma with the potential for lifelong health consequences, is an egregious violation of that goal. We believe unequivocally that children should not be separated from their families.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, a partner organization, warns: “Highly stressful experiences, including family separation, can cause irreparable harm to lifelong development by disrupting a child’s brain architecture... When children are separated from their parents, it removes the buffer of a supportive adult or caregiver to help mitigate stress and protect against substantial impacts on their health that can contribute to chronic conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and heart disease.”

Moreover, even temporary separation has detrimental results on academic performance and social-emotional health. "How many students are going to wonder if Mom or Dad are going to be there when they get home? It's incredibly counterproductive for the federal government to be taking actions that are going to make students question their own safety and well-being, particularly when they're in our care,” said Tigard-Tualatin school board member Ben Bowman, according to the Pamplin Media article on the incident.

What School Districts and Communities Can Do

Schools have a legal responsibility to serve all students, regardless of immigration status. This protection must include the route to school.  Across the country, we have worked to lower speed limits, install crosswalks, and secure crossing guards—all ensuring the safety of our children on their way to school.  Targeting routes to school as venues for immigration activities endangers children’s health and safety and harms their education. The bus stops or any route to school is not the place for these ICE activities.

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has since confirmed that school bus stops are an extension of Oregon’s public school system, and that under Oregon’s sanctuary law bus stops, like schools, should be safe, inclusive and welcoming for all students and families. Oregon’s sanctuary law was passed in 1987, and prohibits state and local law enforcement from using public resources to arrest or detain people whose only offense is being in the country in violation of federal immigration laws.

ODE suggests schools develop plans to address community concerns, share information on families’ rights and offer professional learning so staff know how to respond, and they have created a “DACAmented/Undocumented Toolkit” to help schools.

District and school personnel should have and disseminate the correct information concerning the law, in addition to developing strategies to provide safe environments for students. Districts and schools should:

  • Oregon: Know and understand Oregon’s sanctuary law, school records laws, civil rights laws, and resources for supporting mixed status families
  • Oregon:  Adopt one or more of the model policies created by the Oregon Attorney General. Those model policies can be found at: https://www.doj.state.or.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/DOJ-AGModel-Poli…
  • Oregon: Review the immigration related resources provided by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators: https://www.cosa.k12.or.us/members/immigration
  • National: Develop contingency plans for addressing the concerns and fears of students and families
  • National: Engage in professional learning opportunities with personnel as a proactive measure
  • National: Disseminate information and resources related to student and families’ rights and well being
  • National: Clarify roles and responsibilities for all personnel to proactively prepare for such incidents

How You Can Help:

  • If you live in Oregon, call your state legislators and ask them to support “HR 1011, the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, proposes to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to limit immigration enforcement actions at sensitive locations, including school buses and school bus stops when children are present.”
  • Outside of Oregon, contact your school district and ask them to pass a resolution declaring schools and the routes to school safe places for students. Model language for Safe School Zones can be found here: https://neaedjustice.org/safe-zones/ Contact your state legislators asking them to sponsor or sign onto legislation ”limiting immigration enforcement actions at sensitive locations, including school buses and school bus stops when children are present.”
  • Learn more about “Sanctuary in the Streets”: actions ordinary people can take to stand up to discrimination, threats, and violence toward immigrants and other marginalized populaations https://www.afsc.org/sanctuarystreets
  • For more on the legal background of the Safe School Zone movement and talking points to support them, visit: https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/sanctuary-schools-practice-advisory-2018.pdf