Latino students in Maryland are skipping school for fear of being deported, Prince George’s County officials announced last week, calling this a “scary time.” The dip in attendance comes after a series of widespread raids on undocumented immigrant families by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Despite assurance from the government that raids won’t happen at schools, the Maryland school district just outside of Washington, D.C., has seen a drop in Latino student attendance at various campuses.
High Point High School, where 70 percent of the students are Latino, is seeing the most significant drop in attendance among students who are new immigrants, Principal Sandra Jimenez, who dubs the school “Central American Ellis Island,” said in an interview with NPR. Half of the students who arrived in the United States within the past year – many of them unaccompanied minors — have stopped coming to school, she said.
During the 2014 surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border, Maryland took in more children on a per capita basis than any other state, The Baltimore Sun reported in November. Organizations that helped house the children expected the more recent influx to have a disproportionate impact on the state, which is home to a large population of Central American families.
Students elsewhere are concerned as well. The Obama administration is targeting hundreds of families for deportation who have crossed the southern U.S. border illegally and have been issued final orders of removal by an immigration judge. During the first weekend in January, 121 undocumented immigrants were apprehended in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Joshua Silavent of The Gainesville Times in Georgia reports that a University of North Georgia professor contacted a criminal defense lawyer, saying several students had expressed concern about the raids and asked for advice in dealing with immigration officials. Latino students at the university “have been sharing advice on social media about how to deal with immigration officials in an encounter, including urging immigrants, legal or otherwise, to remain silent, report raids and make sure a signed warrant is delivered before allowing officers into homes,” Silavent writes.
In an open letter to DHS last week, written in English and Spanish, Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell said, “I am deeply troubled by the fear and uncertainty that exists in so many of our school communities as a result of the actions of the Department of Homeland Security. We urge federal authorities to see schools and other public gathering places as areas where no enforcement activities should take place and ask them to strongly consider the devastating impacts of their actions on the academic, social and emotional well-being of all of our students.”
Maxwell urged parents to continue to send their children to school to learn in a “safe and supportive environment.”