A huge part of the struggle during the Trump presidency is that he throws so much BS at the world that it’s hard to focus on any one issue at a time. This morning I wanted to talk about his foolish leaks of classified information to Russia, I wanted to talk about the fact that in the past 48 hours alone US military strikes have killed 35 civilians in Iraq & Syria, I wanted to talk about how white men continue to kill police officers but black men continue to be blamed for violence against police, but I just don’t have enough time – because I have to tell you what happened right here in New York this past Thursday.
In Queens, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents randomly showed up at a local elementary school, P.S. 58, also called The School of Heroes, to inquire about a 4th grade student. A 4th grader!
Thankfully, in the state of New York, all students from age 5 – 21 are guaranteed a free public education – regardless of immigration status. Not only that, but just two months ago New York City put in place a smart anti-Trump policy to turn away all ICE agents who do not have warrants.
Still, this was no easy position for school administrators to be put in. Bravely, the staff turned the agents away and refused to allow them to enter the school. It appears to be the first time the new policy of turning immigration officials away has been used by New York school administrators. It’s one thing for this policy to be in place, but it’s a completely different thing for school administrators to be in the precarious position of turning federal agents away at the door. Were they armed? Did they have on their typical ICE flack-jackets? Whatever the case, the staff stood their ground, and that’s a beautiful thing.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services indeed confirmed that two ICE agents visited the elementary school, but insisted they were not there to apprehend the 4th grader, but to verify some facts about their enrollment. Could they not have done that over the telephone? Would an email to an administrator have not sufficed?
In many ways, the damage is already done. News of the visit from the ICE agents to the local elementary school has spread quickly throughout New York and has become a national news story today. I spoke with many of my undocumented friends here in New York, and beyond, and they each said, without fail, that the story has spooked undocumented families – who are already fearful of random checkpoints and surprise raids.
“I know of entire undocumented families who hardly leave their homes now. I work at a medical clinic. Since Trump was elected we’ve seen a drastic decline in routine visits by undocumented immigrants. It breaks my heart thinking that people need to see a doctor, but aren’t leaving their homes because they are afraid,” said Mary, a health worker, struggling to fight back tears.
If undocumented families, in New York or elsewhere, now choose to keep their kids home from school, in the name of protecting them from the possibility of an encounter with an ICE agent, everybody loses – particularly the kids. As a parent, though, even the remote thought that a federal agent may attempt to engage my children in any way whatsoever, is disconcerting. I’d hate to see a single child not sent to school because of this incident, but I’d certainly understand it.
All of this fits Trump’s M.O. He leads by fear and chaos. I regularly see conservatives bragging that “immigration is down” since Trump was elected like that is something to be proud of. It isn’t. Beyond the fact that immigrants, documented and undocumented alike, are an absolutely vital part of our nation, it’s never a good thing when the world looks at your country and sees a place they simply don’t think would welcome them with open arms.
As I’ve traveled internationally since Trump’s election, in Europe, the Caribbean, and in Central America, everybody I’ve engaged is not just shocked that Trump is actually the President of the United States, but horrified at how much of a train wreck his presidency has truly been these first few months.
That’s the United States right now. We look like damn fools before the world.