Pittsburgh Public Schools may become 'sanctuary' campus
January 19, 2017 12:00 AM
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In what would be a mostly symbolic move, the Pittsburgh Public Schools could soon become the state’s first K-12 school system to declare itself a “sanctuary” campus.
The proposal, akin to a “sanctuary city” designation, would bar immigration agents from school grounds without permission from the district’s law department and the superintendent. The move comes as local education activists host a rally today calling for “sanctuary spaces free from the threat of deportation” and other demands on the eve of President-elect Donald J. Trump’s inauguration.
State regulation and Supreme Court precedent prohibit districts from asking about a student’s immigration status during enrollment, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said schools and other “sensitive locations” should “generally be avoided” for interviews, arrests and searches.
The proposal thus is “symbolic in one sense” but comes “out of fear that under a new [presidential] administration this wouldn’t be the case” any longer, said District 6 school director and board vice president Moira Kaleida, who introduced the resolution at a school board meeting Wednesday.
Of Pittsburgh Public’s 24,000 students, 1,020 are English-language learners representing 57 countries.
District officials signaled support for the resolution Wednesday. “I think the board is just showing they care about students and making sure all students feel safe and protected in school,” said district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh.
Although definitions vary, sanctuary cities typically refer to municipalities that don’t cooperate in full with federal officials seeking to detain undocumented immigrants. Nicole Reigelman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, noted that the term doesn’t strictly apply to school districts because they don’t enforce immigration laws.
“The Department is not aware of any school board passing a resolution declaring itself to be a ‘sanctuary campus,’ however if a district did so there is no requirement to report it to PDE,” she added.
Steve Robinson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, also said he wasn’t aware of any such districts in the state. School systems in California, Texas and New Mexico have adopted similar designations.
Today’s rally also will call attention to another immigration-related issue. Those attending will include Alma Brigido, the wife of Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh resident detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Ohio and fighting a potential deportation to his native Mexico.
She and hundreds of other Pittsburgh-area residents have appealed to federal authorities for leniency in his case, saying that he should not be considered a priority for deportation under federal guidelines because he has not committed any violent offenses, has his family here and has volunteered in the community and at his Catholic parish.
Advocates for Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez, who is detained in a jail at Seneca County, Ohio, said he has not yet been deported as of this week. He was convicted of misdemeanor charges in late 2016 and in 2012 related to his lack of legal status here, and he has been removed from the country a total of four previous times, according to ICE, which considers his case to be a priority.
Among those sending letters to public officials on his behalf is Bishop David Zubik, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh confirmed. With Mr. Trump pledging wide-scale deportations, Bishop Zubik has publicly offered support for immigrants fearful for their future and has called for compassionate and just immigration reform.
The rally, organized by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and Great Public Schools-Pittsburgh, a coalition of allied community groups, is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Concord Elementary School auditorium.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944. Peter Smith contributed.
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