Pamphlet advises students of their rights; some authorities say it’s too one-sided
By J. Harry Jones and Morgan Lee
San Diego Union Tribune
Saturday, September 25, 2010
A countywide public school network for at-risk children is encouraging teachers to address students’ concerns about immigration raids and deportations — an effort that’s receiving mixed reviews from law enforcement agencies.
Police are objecting to one key element: an illustrated guide on how to protect yourself from raids by not saying too much, not carrying certain documents and not signing forms without consulting a lawyer.
The guide, which was distributed to teachers and students at two recent events, depicts burly police officers in sunglasses and fear-stricken immigrants in handcuffs who refuse to give information before speaking to an attorney.
It includes a wallet-sized “know your rights” card.
The guides were handed out in response to evidence that students from families living illegally in the United States are having a hard time concentrating on academics, said Mary Glover, executive director of Juvenile Court & Community Schools.
“I thought long and hard about it when I was approached by individuals who felt they needed some help in getting to know what are the civil rights involved in this,” said Glover, who oversees about 2,800 students — including foster children, youths in juvenile hall and those at risk of dropping out — enrolled in the system under the county Office of Education.
“My purpose is to educate staff so they can inform students of their civil rights,” she added.
The guide is headlined, “WARNING! PROTECT YOURSELF FROM IMMIGRATION RAIDS!” It provides several lists of do’s and don’ts for migrants who are detained or receive a visit from immigration officials at home or in the workplace. Among the advice to illegal immigrants:
• Don’t lie. Don’t give false testimony.Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher said the guide presents a one-sided view of law enforcement and may trigger even more fear.
• Don’t give government officials information about your immigration status.
• Don’t say anything, or say only: “I need to speak to my lawyer.”
• Don’t carry papers from another country because the government can use this material in a deportation proceeding.
• Stay calm and don’t run. These actions may be viewed as an admission that you have something to hide.
• Government officials may try to intimidate you or trick you into signing documents. You may be signing away your right to a hearing before an immigration judge.
• You have the right to see a search warrant. Don’t open the door; ask authorities to slip the document underneath the door.
“It astounds me that another governmental agency, the Office of Education, would be giving out information that doesn’t give the whole picture. It’s an example of not telling the whole truth,” Maher said. “It’s inappropriate. I don’t think the pictures they used in that flier are appropriate.”
The guide shows square-jawed white and African-American agents leading away a mustachioed suspect, among other images. The stylized sketches are reminiscent of hugely popular Mexican “historieta” comic books. Mexico’s government has taken to printing public service announcements, including legal and safety tips for migrants, in comic-book format.
One drawing in the American guide depicts an agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency said last week that the guide offers good advice.
ICE spokeswoman Lauren Mack said the agency supports efforts to inform people about their legal rights.
“Generally this pamphlet, which has been distributed in other major metropolitan areas, offers sound and practical information about the enforcement process,” she said. “For their part, our officers are trained to treat those they encounter with dignity and respect, and we would hope that cooperation and understanding are reciprocated.”
The guide was written by attorneys at CASA de Maryland, a nonprofit support group for Latino and immigrant communities.
Mauricio López, a spokesman for the organization, said schools and other groups as far away as Hawaii have requested the material.
“It reflects clearly the fear that the immigrant community faces,” he said. “It was because of these uncertainties and fear of abuse that these pamphlets were drawn up by our legal department.”
Jim Esterbrooks, spokesman for the San Diego County Office of Education, defended the wording in the guide.
“There is nothing in here that is encouraging our children to break laws or be defiant,” he said.
Glover, director of the alternative county school network, said teachers came to her worried that some of their immigrant students couldn’t focus on academics.
The experience of one teenage mother in particular convinced her of the need for teacher guidance.
“A pregnant and parenting teen living with her family came home from school and her parents were not there,” Glover said. “They had been deported and she was the oldest of three siblings, plus she had her own child. ...
“So who does she call? She calls her teacher.”
Dawn Miller, a teacher at Lindsay Community School in downtown San Diego, which is part of Juvenile Court & Community Schools, said immigration issues affect many of her students, yet there was a dearth of information available to them about their rights.
“This is just one more thing they’re having to deal with — the deportation of their parents, their family, their friends,” said Miller, who makes the guide available to her classes.
But Elizabeth Wells of Chula Vista, a parent who describes herself as a political conservative opposed to illegal immigration, said teachers shouldn’t get involved.
“The instructors are very well-meaning, I’m sure,” Wells said. “What troubles me is that by offering the guides, they’re sending a message that illegal immigration is an acceptable thing. They become advocates for people who are violating the law.”
Copies of the guide were handed out during a Sept. 14 meeting attended by 60 teachers and staff members and a few students at the county Office of Education’s offices in Linda Vista. The group also was told about the website where the document could be downloaded.
And the guide was distributed to students and teachers at a meeting in June by a speaker who pushes for immigrant and family rights.
That speaker was Benjamin Prado, a program coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee of San Diego. He believes public school teachers have an obligation to inform students about their fundamental rights when confronted by law enforcement.
“Schools have begun to see that this issue of immigration enforcement is tearing families apart and is impacting the ability of students to concentrate on their school work,” Prado said.
Prado wouldn’t describe his presentation, but said schools are a crucial venue for discussions about immigration enforcement.
J. Harry Jones: (760) 752-6780; firstname.lastname@example.org