Ogden Latino advocates seek school action on immigration issue

Tuesday , March 14, 2017 - 5:15 AM

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Two Latino advocacy groups want Ogden school officials to take a stand in connection with the simmering national immigration debate.

Anna Jane Arroyo, chairwoman of IMAGE de Northern Utah, said group leaders plan to ask school officials to adopt a measure calling on federal immigration officials to advise schools reps ahead of time when they have business on school grounds. Wording and specifics were still being worked out, but broadly, the aim would be to reduce potential anxiety caused by the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at Ogden schools.

“We’re asking the school board to adopt this proposal so our children will feel safer, because the children of undocumented workers are going to school very afraid,” Arroyo told a gathering of Latino immigrants and their backers on Sunday. Those seeking change plan to address Thursday’s meeting of the Ogden School District Board of Education.

Latinos United Promoting Education and Civic Engagement, or LUPEC, also backs the initiative, according to Azenett Garza, a member of the group. She would also like to see officials adopt language in school policy spelling out that all students have a right to an environment free from harassment at school, regardless of their citizenship status.

“The more people who come, the better for the community,” said Cirilo Franco, who helped organize Sunday’s gathering, called to help inform undocumented immigrants of their legal rights.

President Donald Trump has called for more forceful action to crack down on undocumented immigrants, which has caused alarm in the community, spurring Sunday’s meeting at St. Joseph Catholic Church and the push for school action. The crowd Sunday was overwhelmingly Latino and just over half of the students in the Ogden School District, 51.4 percent, were Latino in 2016, according to state data.

Thursday’s school board meeting starts at 6 p.m. and will be held at school district headquarters at 1950 Monroe Blvd.

Proponents for the change have already reached out to school officials, according to Jer Bates, a school spokesman, and they’ll likely address the body during the public comment section of Thursday’s meeting. Board members typically don’t speak during public comment sections but rather, just listen.

‘Why are you here?’

Franco said the Ogden proposal mirrors a push for action in Salt Lake City schools by immigrant advocates there.

Unidad Inmigrante last week asked for a measure outlining steps Salt Lake City school officials may take to protect students from immigration officials, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. It came in the wake of a stop by officials in U.S. Department of Homeland Security garb at a Salt Lake elementary school.

Salt Lake City officials said they needed to gather more information before acting on the call, the Tribune reported.

Arroyo pointed to an incident in Ogden “years ago” when an ICE official visited a school, sparking alarm. It turns out the visit was for something routine and uneventful, but Arroyo noted the current political atmosphere and Trump’s strong anti-undocumented immigrant talk.

“Now we’re talking about the real thing,” she said. “You can imagine the toll, the mental stress it’s taking on children. We just want a safe environment for children.”

Action by school officials,  Garza added, would have symbolic importance, conveying a message of support to immigrant students and kids with undocumented parents. The heightened debate over immigration, Arroyo said, has led to instances of taunting and bullying directed at Latino students.

“’They’re going to come and take you away,’” Arroyo said, echoing the sort of comments some students have reported. “’Why are you here? Aren’t you afraid?’”

Reporter Anna Burleson contributed to this story.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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