At first an intangible promise on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump’s declaration to deport illegal immigrants across the country is becoming a harsh reality. The U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have rounded up about 50 undocumented citizens living in the Chicagoland area so far this month. They are part of nearly 680 undocumented citizens that have been rounded up across the country since the start of February (Chicagoist)
The raids, understandably, have startled Chicago’s population. Chicago has the fifth largest Hispanic population in the country--twenty-two percent of its total population is Hispanic (Chicago Now). On Tuesday, due to recent questions from parents and staff, and attendance declines during the “Day without Immigrants,” CPS officials issued a memo to principals. The notice outlined what they should do if ICE agents come to their schools: they should not let federal immigration agents in without a criminal warrant, they should withhold student information, and they should call CPS Law Department (CNN).
"To be very clear, CPS does not provide assistance to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the enforcement of federal civil immigration law," the memo said.
So far the federal government has not announced plans for immigration agents to enter schools. There have been recent scares, such as when the DHS and the Chicago Police Public Transportation Section conducted a screening at the North Side Addison CTA station on Feb. 14. Some Red Liners took to social media saying it was another measure of the immigration ban, when in reality, the screenings were part of a counterterrorism effort that began in 2014 (ABC7).
Trump is, however, creating a chilling atmosphere for immigrant families in the U.S. and in Chicago, with his recent mandates, policies and rhetoric. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently drew up the Trump administration’s plans to extend the powers of state and local law enforcement in acting as immigration officers.
On Feb. 20, DHS released a memorandum implementing the Executive Order “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” issued by Trump on Jan. 25, that establishes his stringent policy on border security and immigration enforcement (U.S. Department of Homeland Security). The DHS guidance memos lay out how the department plans on implementing the president’s controversial executive orders. There is a guidance memo on making arrests in “sensitive locations,” which includes schools, in addition to churches and hospitals (Chicago Sun-Times).
Trump’s administration said it is leaving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program alone for now, and that it is just expanding existing law, but this, obviously, does not offer much solace to immigrants in Trump’s America.
Federal orders calling for increased resources for ICE and Customs and Border Protection, the construction of a wall along the southern border and a hostile stance toward undocumented immigrants further instill fear and anxiety in immigrant communities. These policies also spread a strong message of hate.
The panic associated with these raids has not been lost on families in CPS. On the “Day without Immigrants” on Feb. 16, over 50,000 (so about 15 percent) of CPS’s 381,000 students were not in school (Chicago Sun-Times). About 25 percent of the district’s Hispanic student body was missing from CPS classrooms, and more than 100 schools had attendance rates that were 80 percent less than attendance rates on the same day a year prior (WGNtv.com).
Immigrants across the country stayed home from school and work on the “Day without Immigrants” to show how vital they are to the economy, to support immigrants’ rights, and to refute Trump’s views on immigration and efforts to increase deportations. In Chicago, immigrants gathered in Union Park for a rally, before marching toward the Federal Plaza. Many business owners locked up their stores in support of the movement; Rick Bayless tweeted that four of his restaurants would be closed out of respect for immigrants (Twitter).
In preparation for this day, the district’s Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson sent a note out to parents on Feb. 15. The note said that, “Every CPS school will welcome all children, regardless of their race, ethnicity or country of origin, and create a safe and affirming environment where those students can learn. We believe that every child has the absolute right to a quality education, which is why we want to see all students in school every day, including this Thursday” (Chicago Sun-Times).
The district has not revealed how many of its students are undocumented, but it might not know this number since it is against federal law for a school district to check a student's immigration or citizenship status. CPS does know that about 46 percent of its students are Hispanic, and about 17 percent of all CPS students are English-language learners (CPS). National policy shifts are leaving many families in CPS shaken up, as shown by the attendance drop on the “Day without Immigrants” and the current conversations surrounding education and immigration.
The principal at Amundsen High Schools in Andersonville, where about two-thirds of the students are Latino, said, "Teachers are reporting a really high level of anxiety [amongst students]...This is a real fear, this is not hype. These are living, breathing teenagers. This is not a story on CNN. These are the teens who sit in front of us every single day" (DNAinfo).