News / Vancouver

More B.C. education boards vote to advance ‘sanctuary’ schools

In the U.S., Donald Trump’s threatened funding for 'sanctuary cities.' In B.C., several school boards are enacting reforms in the opposite direction.

After being removed from a Langley school because of a bureaucratic problem with their parents' work permit renewals, five-year-old Aleyan and his sister Nethali, 7, were finally allowed back into the school on Dec. 15 after Metro broke the Mexican family's story.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro Order this photo

After being removed from a Langley school because of a bureaucratic problem with their parents' work permit renewals, five-year-old Aleyan and his sister Nethali, 7, were finally allowed back into the school on Dec. 15 after Metro broke the Mexican family's story.

Amidst President Donald Trump’s vow to cut off money to so-called “sanctuary cities” in the U.S., two school districts in B.C. are heading in the exact opposite direction when it comes to undocumented immigrants.

The latest is New Westminster school board’s education committee, which voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend trustees approve a policy welcoming children of undocumented immigrant parents, and forbidding staff from reporting them to authorities unless forced to.

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And though the major shift predated Trump’s victory, the board vice-chair made clear current events had added urgency.

“In light of recent international, national and local events that have underscored the threats to fundamental shared rights, dignity and safety of all people — but particularly for newcomers and migrants with precarious status — I hope this is a timely opportunity for New Westminster to stand, speak and act together,” explained Mark Gifford.

The draft policy would forbid immigration authorities “to enter schools or Board facilities unless required by law,” keep students’ status confidential, and form a complaints mechanism for any families shut out.

The proposal comes after more than a year of consultations and meetings with community groups and families with precarious status in Canada.

“We’re happy it’s at the level of being a policy,” said Sanctuary Health’s Byron Cruz. “A policy … makes it clear that schools should be a safe place for children, where families can know their kids will not be reported to immigration.”

Not everyone was happy with the proposal, with Twitter user “Invest in Knowledge” stating Tuesday, “Schools circumventing immigration laws is wrong and creates risk for all children in schools in New West.”

Gifford countered that’s not the case at all, and concerns about families “getting in the back door” to get a free education are unfounded.

“This is not about those things, this is about students who are residents here,” he argued.

His district is not the first, even if the New Westminster proposal being considered goes much further in preventing schools from cooperating with immigration authorities unless compelled by law.

Vancouver schools developed a policy in the wake of the city's own "Access Without Fear" guidelines. And on Jan. 23, Burnaby’s school board adopted its own guidelines stating immigration status isn’t necessary for an education, and vowing to consider each student’s case.

“For parent/legal guardians who do not have the proper immigration documents,” the School Board Practice and Procedures stated, “determination of eligibility for a publicly funded education will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, with care and sensitivity.

“While the school district recognizes the federal government’s legal jurisdiction over immigration matters, it is not the role of the school district to share immigration status information with external federal agencies unless legally ordered to do so."

School for All coalition member Shanee Prasad lauded the boards’ moves as “very positive.”  

"In Burnaby, we’ve been advocating for the the school district to make sure they create policy that welcomes students and families with precarious immigration status into our schools, so that our schools are open to all kids from Kindergarten to Grade 12," Prasad, a Burnaby teacher, told Metro in an interview. "The policy that's been released definitely shows the school district wants to work with families that have precarious immigration or citizenship status.  

"We’ve seen that also the the Vancouver and the New Westminister policies."

Prasad said rhetoric that paints non-status families as “illegals” is unacceptable.

“They’re not illegal, no family can be ‘illegal,’” she said. “What’s happening in the U.S. is going to push us to look at this issue more and more.”

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