The Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board voted 5 to 1 in favor of a resolution reaffirming the district “as a Welcoming and Safe District for all students.”
Board member Claudia Medina said the measure will make the district “have a conversation … to ensure that we follow the correct procedures and know exactly what to do in extreme cases.” She expects the district could face scenarios it hasn’t faced before as a result of President Donald J. Trump’s executive orders ramping up illegal immigrant deportations.
The District 209 resolution, read in English and Spanish, reinforces the district’s commitment “to ensuring that all schools and district facilities are welcoming and safe places for students and their families,” and for providing a free public education to all area students “regardless of their immigration status.”
The resolution also addresses U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for seizing illegal immigrants.
Earlier this month, ICE announced raids in several metropolitan areas across the country, including in the Chicago area, resulting in 680 arrests. Forty-seven of those arrests took place in the Chicago area, with one arrest happening in Melrose Park.
The district’s resolution comes in the wake of measures taken by other government bodies, including Oak Park, which recently designated itself a Sanctuary City. Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reaffirmed the city’s designation as a sanctuary city. Former D209 board president and state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) also has sponsored the Immigration Safe Zones Act (or HB 462).
Other municipalities within District 209’s borders, including Maywood, Melrose Park and Forest Park, have considered passing Sanctuary City ordinances. More than 53 percent of the district’s student population is Hispanic and 30 percent of the residents in Proviso Township are Hispanic.
There was heated discussion among Medina and board member Dan Adams about the wisdom of passing the resolution after President Trump issued an executive order threatening to cut funding from entities that defy federal immigration laws and ICE officials.
The resolution states that “unless specifically required by law,” anyone formally associated with the district, including employees, representatives, volunteers and contractors, “shall refrain from inquiring about immigration status or to produce documentation regarding immigration status of a student or parent.”
The resolution also advises district employees, contractors, volunteers and representatives to require any ICE official attempting to enter district facilities to first notify the superintendent and the district’s general counsel “in advance of such entry and provide proper written authority.”
Adams said the district doesn’t have the authority to stop an ICE official from entering a school facility.
“They don’t have to listen to you,” Adams said. “They can just come in here. You can’t say, ‘Hey you have to call the superintendent.’ They’re not calling the superintendent. They’re coming in. End of story.”
Attorney William Gleason, the district’s legal counsel, said that if an ICE official shows up at a district facility “without a warrant and tells you they’re going to take somebody, I would not advise any of your staff or officials to impede with a government official because even if their action is unlawful, your interference is a crime.”
Gleason said he believes it’s unlikely that ICE agents will enter school facilities in order to fish for students who are illegal immigrants. He said that, when they do enter sensitive areas, they usually have a warrant to arrest a particular person.
“If they show up for a specific reason, your resolution is not going to stop them,” he said.
Adams, who voted against the measure, argued that the resolution’s lack of enforcement power to stop ICE renders it meaningless and that, since it reinforces many of district policies, it is unnecessarily duplicative. He also argued that it could potentially harm the district by putting it in the position to lose federal funding.
“This means absolutely nothing,” Adams said. “You’re giving kids a false sense of security by saying, ‘Oh, if we pass this resolution, you’re safe and this is a safe zone.’ … What are we going to do if they withhold funds? Are we going to raise taxes? … Has anybody ever come here and taken anybody? Has ICE ever come to this building? No. Nobody’s ever been deported from their school. But now you’re shining a spotlight on us.”
Whether or not local municipalities would actually lose federal funding by adopting Sanctuary City legislation, however, is a matter of considerable national debate.
Board members said the resolution could be subject to change after further review, but that the principle underlying the document is fixed in place.
“[This resolution is] to assure and to reaffirm that [the district] is safe and welcoming for all students,” Superintendent Jesse Rodriguez said.