Julia Mejia’s first order in Boston City Council calls for ‘sanctuary’ schools after news of ICE seeing BPS incident reports
Julia Mejia’s first order as city councilor calls for creating “sanctuary” schools, libraries and other spaces for children that would restrict what information federal immigration agents can obtain about students.
Mejia, a Dominican-born Dorchester resident and Boston’s first Afro-Latina city councilor, filed an order requesting a public hearing on sanctuary schools, citing concerns about racial profiling and federal immigration policies. She introduced the order at Wednesday’s Boston City Council meeting, expanding the order to include other potential “sanctuary spaces.”
“Using my lived experiences as the child of a woman who was undocumented and as somebody who has worked with people my entire life who have lived in fear of deportation, I am submitting as my very first action as Boston city councilor at-large an ‘Order For a Hearing Addressing Civil Rights in the Creation of Sanctuary Safe Spaces in Boston.’”
The proposal follows an announcement from Lawyers for Civil Rights that Boston Public Schools made 135 student incident reports available to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Boston Public Schools did not directly send the incident reports to ICE Boston, but it shared the reports with the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, or BRIC, a network to which ICE agents have access.
“Access to education is a fundamental civil right and it is incumbent upon the City Council to listen to those most impacted in order to ameliorate the above circumstances,” the order states.
The modern sanctuary movement dates back to the 1980s when undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala fleeing civil war and killings took refuge in U.S. religious institutions.
At the same time, cities across the country started passing ordinances restricting how local agencies cooperate with federal immigration agencies, including Somerville in 1987. Yet the policies and level of restrictions differ from one city to the next.
Boston passed the Trust Act in 2014 to dictate how local police and ICE interact. The law was updated in December in response to reports of a Boston police officer helping ICE agents arrest an undocumented construction worker who filed a workplace injury claim.
Marcos Charles, acting field office director for ICE Boston Enforcement and Removal Operations, told MassLive in December he believes that sanctuary laws “make a community less safe” and make ICE agents’ jobs more difficult.
“This is a public safety issue, not a political issue. It’s only common sense that ICE be able to take custody of criminal aliens in a secure environment such as a jail, instead of sending officers out to attempt the often dangerous task of arresting criminal aliens in residential communities,” Charles wrote.
An ICE Boston spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the school incident reports and the BRIC.
An East Boston High School student was arrested by ICE in March 2018 after a school resource officer shared a report about a lunchroom argument with the BRIC.
The student, who has been identified by his middle name Orlando, was accused of being a gang member. His attorney at the time, Sarah Sherman-Stokes, said the allegations were nothing more than a rumor started by another student. Still, Orlando was deported to El Salvador.
A Boston Public Schools representative said the district updated its policy on how school police officers share school safety reports with other law enforcement agencies, including BRIC. The district directs school officers not to share School Safety Reports with any outside agencies, including BRIC, except when the Boston Police Department School Unit investigates possible criminal activity.
Officials would need approval from the Boston School Police chief to share any other school safety report with another agency.
The school district said it continued to review its policies this year, including developing new protocols for approving report sharing.
The 135 incident reports are heavily redacted, but they range from a resident complaining to police about a group of students at a dog park in East Boston to a school employee finding a gun in a plastic bag on the windowsill of a girl’s bathroom at Community Academy in Jamaica Plain.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, which is suing the school district, said the reports show that BPS has collaborated with ICE.
“Students need to feel safe in school, and when there is any possibility that ICE will be involved, that violates that principle,” Lawyers for Civil Rights attorney Janelle Dempsey told MassLive earlier this month.