ICE cannot enter Amherst Public Schools
The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee voted Tuesday night to refuse federal immigration agents entry to Amherst Public Schools without a warrant. The resolution “Rights of Undocumented Students and Protocols for ICE Access to Schools” passed unanimously.
The committee believes, as stated in the resolution, that the inviting environment of the schools “would be threatened by the presence of Immigration and Naturalization Service employees who come on to district property for the purposes of removing students or their family members, or obtaining information about students and their families.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees will now have to notify the superintendent and the district’s general counsel before entering any school. They will also need a warrant signed by a judge and must disclose their intentions to the school.
The resolution also specifies that the superintendent can refuse an immigration agent access to schools if they do not produce their credentials and evidence that reasonable suspicion exists via warrant.
Amherst Public Schools staff will be trained to respond to ICE personnel inquiries and are now expected not to report the immigration status of students or their families to ICE. Families will also be notified about ICE efforts to collect information from the schools.
However, questions remain about how the resolution will manifest. Currently there is no protocol for front office staff responding to an investigating ICE employee entering the school.
“I’m less worried about myself, to be very candid. Of more concern is that we give our staff proper guidance where we’re allowing staff to feel confident that they’re following the law,” said interim Superintendent Mike Morris.
The policy subcommittee is expected to meet within the month to answer such questions and discuss the specifics of the resolution, while also examining other town laws that may conflict with or support the resolution. There is still uncertainty among the committee regarding the legality of the resolution.
“The key question to check with [legal] counsel on is ‘If an ICE agent comes with a civil warrant signed by a judge, does the district have the ability to legally say no?’” said Morris.
The wording of the resolution was debated, with committee member Vira Douangmany Cage suggesting the word “warrant” be amended to “criminal warrant.”
“My intent with inserting ‘criminal’ was that you don’t expand access to ICE,” said Cage.
Trevor Baptiste, fellow committee member, supported the idea in order to raise the threshold of what ICE agents have access to. The committee ultimately decided to leave the resolution intentionally vague, so as to be left to legal interpretation.
“Does this resolution constitute a policy?” asked Baptiste. “This resolution I’m looking at as fluffy words that show our intent.”
“It would be ridiculous for us to not acknowledge the authority of ICE agents, period. What we’re saying is that their authority is limited to getting a criminal out of our school,” said Baptiste.
The resolution is modeled after a recent Portland, Oregon, resolution on the subject, and is part of a broader initiative to make Amherst a “sanctuary community,” meaning a community that does not comply with ICE. The Amherst town manager, town counsel, Human Rights Commission and Select Board are already discussing creating a sanctuary community bylaw.
David McLellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.