Some immigrant parents are withholding their children from Austin district schools out of fear that they, their children or family members may be detained by federal immigration officials after hearing last week that an enforcement operation has been underway in Austin.

While the operation appears to target those unauthorized immigrants with criminal records, numerous parents said they feared getting caught up in a sting and told Austin teachers and parent support specialists that they also plan to withdraw their children from school.

It’s unclear whether there was an uptick in the number of student absences last Friday or Monday, as the Austin district won’t have numbers available until the end of the week.

But representatives with labor group Education Austin said they received word from campus educators saying parents fear they’ll run into immigration enforcement officials walking their children to school, so they opted to keep them home.

“People are just really scared,” said Montserrat Garibay, the vice president of the labor group Education Austin. The parents said they rather keep their children home than risk having the family separated or the children placed in foster care, Garibay said.

It’s unclear how many undocumented students are in the Austin school district, but there are 30,000 English language learners and about 1,000 refugee children in the school system.

Education Austin also has been distributing information that says immigration enforcement actions generally aren’t to occur at various “sensitive locations,” including schools, hospitals and places of worship, unless someone poses an imminent threat, among other reasons.

This weekend, Education Austin helped train nearly 250 educators and other school officials during two “Know Your Rights” training sessions on immigration laws and rights. The turnout was so much higher than expected that the group ran out of the materials.

The group also has been meeting with immigrants on campuses to explain their rights and what to do if immigration enforcement officials show up at their home or try to question them. And Education Austin provided its 3,000 members materials detailing similar information, including fliers to pass on to students and their families. Education Austin and other partners have set up future clinics with lawyers working pro bono to help families legally designate a caregiver for their children in case one or both parents are deported.

A charter school office manager who attended one of the weekend sessions recounted dropping off one of her students at his home last week to help his parents, who feared they’d be deported if they left their home.

Federal law requires schools to educate students, regardless of their immigration status. But the labor group has pushed the district to do more to show support after an Austin valedictorian experienced backlash for declaring her immigration status in a tweet that went viral last year.

Since June, the group has lobbied the school board to pass a resolution declaring support of all students, including those who are undocumented, but the school board has not yet taken up the issue. More recently, the group has pushed to get Superintendent Paul Cruz and school board members to hold a press conference or make a statement reiterating that schools are “safe places.”

It’s unclear what actions the district will take, but the administration and some individual board members have provided such reassurances through direct outreach or through schools.


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