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Los Angeles School Talks To Students About What To Do If A Parent Is Detained By ICE


It might not be the role of a public school to get involved in a political debate, say, over immigration. It is a school's role to protect students, and those things seemed to collide this week in Los Angeles. Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez had just dropped off his daughter at Academia Avance, a public charter school. Blocks away, the father was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE says the man had an outstanding deportation order and minor criminal record. But this spooked students, and now the school is rethinking how it talks to students about legal status. The school's also preparing families in case ICE comes for them. Academia Avance's executive director, Ricardo Mireles, came to our studio here in Culver City.

Can you tell me a little bit about this family?

RICARDO MIRELES: Yes. The father of two current students, but he's also what one of the family members termed as super uncle...

GREENE: Super uncle.

MIRELES: ...To several other students that are there, including the current senior valedictorian ASP class president.

GREENE: Did you know that he was wanted by immigration officers to be deported and had I guess what they've described as some sort of criminal record?

MIRELES: No, and I think that kind of gets partly what I imagine we're going to discuss. Our school, prior to this incident, had taken very much hands off - we're not asking, we don't want to know - about both our students and their families' immigration stuff. And that's the change that now we are moving to be much more explicit and still - not to collect information but to be very direct in approaching families and saying you need to know your legal status and all the details that entails.

GREENE: Take me into this case in your school specifically. What is your message right now to teachers on how they should handle students, their emotions, their questions, about their own families?

MIRELES: We have parent conferences this week, and our conversations are in addition to the academics. The first question is just to ensure that they understand we're in a different era now. Every family needs to have a detailed and comprehensive plan. So we're providing them with, from the Immigration Legal Resource Center, a checklist on what a plan should look like. But more importantly, we are pushing them to make sure that they do it.

GREENE: You talk about bringing up the status of parents. How uncomfortable is that for your students to have that conversation with their parents?

MIRELES: It's a very delicate matter. I had a young girl at our school come to me the very next day and said I sat down with my mom. She told me, don't worry about it. If this were to go down, you can go live with your dad. She goes, but I don't want to live with my dad.

GREENE: How old is the girl?

MIRELES: Fourteen.

GREENE: So did you tell her to press more with her mom or what?

MIRELES: I did. And then I saw him yesterday, and I encouraged them both to go through the planning documents that we had for them.

GREENE: Why are you, as a school, finding that that is your role? I mean, if this is a legal question for the authorities to figure out whether or not this man should be deported, I would imagine that he might have, you know, lawyers or legal advocates. But why would it be the role of educators to advocate for a family here?

MIRELES: Let me answer your question this way, David, in that the most sacred thing that people have in a family is their children, right? And essentially, you're asking parents to leave their children with you. And so that trust is given to us as a school. We need to do something with that. And if we know of resources that can support the family, then that's what we need to do. In this particular case, we had resources that could be used to support this family. That's why we did it.


GREENE: Ricardo Mireles is executive director at Academia Avance in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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