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Trump's Immigration Policy "Hurts Kids," Says Connecticut Education Commissioner

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Chion Wolf
/
WNPR
Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell speaking on WNPR's "Where We Live" in this file photo.

Students across Connecticut are scared and concerned about the immigration policies being pushed by President Donald Trump, according to state education officials. 

The State Department of Education recently sent out a letter to schools to remind them that all children, regardless of their immigration status, have a legal right to be educated. Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said many students are afraid of what might happen to families who are in the country illegally. 

"Families being potentially separated -- not because of any kind of thing that they've done, but just because of immigration status -- is something that we know hurts kids," Wentzell said. 

At the end of January, President Trump issued an executive order banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. A federal judge has since temporarily suspended this order. Trump's ban -- when coupled with his orders to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and his general anti-immigrant positions -- has left a ripple effect in schools across the state. 

The U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance on this in 2014, laying out the legal obligations schools have to educate all children. Students in public schools -- including those here illegally -- already have some legal protections, but Wentzell said the state should explore what else can be done. 

She said most immigration-related incidents happen outside of school, "but we still can have affirmative steps to help kids understand their families' legal rights, and their own legal rights to an education." 

Many students are U.S. citizens but have family members who are here illegally, according to attorney Edwin Colon with the Center for Children's Advocacy.

Schools aren't required to share citizenship status with immigration enforcement officers, but under the new administration, some fear schools would become easy targets for raids. Speaking on WNPR's Where We Live last week, Colon said that students are afraid of being torn away from their parents. 

"It's not good practice to go into schools to conduct these raids," he said. "There's certainly an impact not just on immigrant students but on the entire school community. It's very disruptive to the entire education process."  

He said schools should have a plan in place if a student's family is broken up. Wentzell urged schools to beef up counseling and mental health supports. 

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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