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Dear Betsy DeVos, I Will *Never* Report My Students to ICE

I will defend my students. I will stand up for their safety and their rights. That’s just what we do in public school.

Students from numerous area high schools marching in Los Angeles on November 14, 2016 to protest the upset election of Republican Donald Trump for President of the United States. The mostly Latino youth walked out of class to protest because they were afraid that their families could be split up through mass deportations of millions of immigrants, as promised by Trump during his campaign. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Teachers fill a lot of roles in our public schools.

We’re mentors to kids in need.

We’re aides to students struggling with new concepts and skills.

We’re homework-givers, pencil-providers, idea-encouragers, lunch-buyers, scrape-bandagers, hand-holders, hug-givers, good listeners, counselors, caregivers and – yes – sometimes even butt-kickers.

It’s no wonder that we occasionally get mistaken for mothers and fathers.

But one thing we will never be is a snitch.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently intimated that principals and teachers could report their undocumented children to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

She’s not going to say what we should do one way or another. She’s just saying that this is something we COULD do if we wanted.

If that results in those kids and their families being deported, well we are a nation of laws, after all.

It’s a remark that sounds so reasonable to some folks.

Luckily, I speak dog whistle.

So did the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1982 when justices ruled in Plyler v. Doe that schools cannot deny children their right to a free education based on immigration status.

When kids are afraid to learn because they or their parents or extended family may be undocumented, that has a smothering and negative impact on the classroom.

When ICE raids a local business, we see a sudden drop in class attendance.

So if students thought their teachers or principals were scrutinizing them to determine their citizenship status, we’d be discouraging many with brown skin or extra-national credentials from ever coming back.

By suggesting that educators have a choice whether to obey established law or to become self-appointed border patrol officers, DeVos actually is prescribing how we should act.

Well, not this teacher, Betsy.

Not now. Not EVER.

No matter who you are – black, white or brown – a public school is a sanctuary. It is where kids of all different races and creeds come to escape from the ravages of poverty, violence and indifference.

Teachers are not the enforcers of our broken, bent and biased immigration policy. It is not our job to oblige xenophobia and bigotry.

It is our job to teach, to protect and inspire.

Sure, I’ve made my fair share of calls to parents, healthcare professionals and Child Protective Services.

I’ve reported abuse, addiction and mental illness.

But I did that to protect my kids. And I do think of them as my kids.

When these little people come toddling into my class, I take a kind of ownership of them.

For the time they’re here, we’re family. I take interest in their lives and they take interest in mine.

They know all about my wife and daughter, my parents and grandparents. And I know about theirs.

We don’t just learn grammar, reading and writing. We share our lives with each other.

We share a mutual trust and respect.

If I reported even a single student for a suspected immigration violation, I would lose that forever.

It’s sad how much things have changed in a little over year.

Hispanic names have become Anglicized. Angelo has becomes Angel. Julio has become Jules. Jorge is now George.

The dulcet melody of Spanish has been silenced. You’ll only hear it in muffled voices if you wander by a few lockers, but never in class.

My kids aren’t even 13 yet, but many of them have already learned to hide.

Don’t appear different. Don’t let anyone know your roots extend beyond national borders.

Be “normal.” Be homogenized, bland American.

That’s the world we’ve built and it’s the one that DeVos is encouraging with her tin pot nationalism.

Some things don’t change when you cross municipal lines – human decency is one of them.

So I won’t be reporting any of my students to ICE.

I won’t help the Gestapo separate parents and children based on citizenship status.

I won’t help set up ethnic checkpoints where armed guards get to ask “suspicious persons” for their papers.

White supremacy was bad enough before Trump was elected. I won’t help the unfortunately named Department of Homeland Security become the protector of a new white trash Fatherland.

I will defend my students. I will stand up for their safety and their rights.

That’s just what we do in public school. We look after our own.

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Steven Singer

Steven Singer

Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, blogger and education advocate. He often writes at his own blog here.

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