School cops could be tipping off federal ICE agents about illegal immigrants in classrooms by overusing the word “gang” in incident reports, according to civil rights groups that are investigating the alleged practice.
School and city police say the fears are unfounded, but immigration advocates aren’t convinced.
“The fear is that there is a chain. The school police officer writes a report and overuses the word ‘gang,’ ” said Matt Cregor, education project director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. “That report finds its way to the fusion centers, and the word ‘gang’ is then used against that student by ICE.”
According to Cregor, those reports — filed by Boston School Police — eventually land in the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, or BRIC, a fusion center created to reduce crime and prevent acts of terrorism.
Once the reports get to the BRIC, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be able to request the unredacted documents.
Boston police Lt. Detective Michael McCarthy, a department spokesman, said ICE does not have direct access to BRIC records. He said BPD will share information with federal authorities during certain investigations and that ICE can make requests for information, but that just adding “gang” to a police report doesn’t tip off immigration authorities.
Cregor and attorneys from Kids in Need of Defense, the Center for Law and Education and Multicultural Education and Advocacy Inc. have filed a public records request with Boston Public Schools seeking information about the alleged practice.
In the Dec. 20, 2017, letter, the attorneys also object to “Boston Public School personnel disclosing copies of student incident reports that contain personally identifiable information, in particular about students at East Boston High School, to the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, the Boston Police Department and ICE.”
Richard Weir, a spokesman for Boston Public Schools, said in an email the district does not request immigration status from families and does not keep any records regarding a student’s immigration status.
“Further, unless ordered to do so by a court of law, BPS does not provide law enforcement authorities with copies of any student’s records, which are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” he added.
Weir said school police can share school incident reports with the Boston Police Department “when it is a matter of public safety.”
“Examples of this include records related to potential suspects involved in gang-related homicides or possible threats to public safety,” Weir said. “School incident reports are created and maintained by BPS School Police for law enforcement purposes and, as law enforcement records, are not considered to be student records.”
Cregor said he is worried that including the word could set off an immediate red flag that will subject students to immigration-related issues.
“All of us want our children to be in safe schools,” he said. “Our fear is that aggressively using the word ‘gang’ — known to have immediate immigration consequences — will violate the rights of some of our youth and deprive them and others of the safe environment that they need in our school.”
An ICE spokesman could not be reached for comment because, according to an automatically generated email, the federal government was still shut down.
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