By Eli Moraru*

In the Trump era, immigration has become a hot topic across the country. With a new push for deportations and the “Muslim ban” taking effect, immigrants across the nation fear for their safety and rights. The District of Columbia has promised to be a sanctuary city for all, but for many immigrant students and their families, these policies and laws are not enough to help them feel at home in our city.

For immigrant students, the new Trump policies are affecting their ability to succeed in school and feel safe in their communities. Supporting these young people and their families is key to making D.C. a better city. With around 23% of all D.C. residents being foreign born, it is important that immigrants and immigrant students are able to thrive in our communities.

As a member of the Woodrow Wilson Senior High School community and leader of the student group Estudiante 2 Estudiante (a student run group that pairs new immigrant students with accustomed students to create a sense of community for immigrant students through discussions, soccer, tutoring, mentoring, and fostering friendships between these students), I am able to talk to the students who are most affected by the Trump administration’s policies. I have met Angel (name has been changed for privacy), a rising junior and an undocumented immigrant. Angel and I have been able to develop a friendship through E2E and because of this, I have become more aware of the issues he faces as an immigrant student in D.C. during the time of the Trump administration. He has told me of his fear of getting deported like his brother, of spending another birthday in a detention center, and his frustration at not being able to understand what his art teacher is assigning. Every day he must face the obstacles of school, his limited English, and the fear of deportation in a city that is new to him.

Angel is just one of thousands of local immigrant students who are affected by the Trump administration's policies. Like Angel, these students are often unable to communicate with their faculty, don’t know their rights, and feel isolated in their school communities. To make D.C. better for these students and their families, they must be supported in and out of school.

Councilmember David Grosso has been a key leader in pushing for legislation supporting immigrant students and their families. In 2015, Grosso introduced the Language Access for Education Act, and reintroduced it in 2017, to increase the standards of language access for all education and government services for D.C. residents without proficiency in English. It would require all schools to have translations of all essential information, which would be key for enabling immigrant families to be involved in their school communities. This act would help immigrant students and their families to communicate with their schools and would create interactions between students and faculty that would lead to greater success for immigrant students in school.

The success of immigrant students heavily relies upon them feeling safe in their academic and local environments. These learners should be able to focus on school and not worry about their immigration status and the status of their family members. To protect these immigrants and help keep peace of mind, Councilmembers Grosso, Jack Evans, and Brianne Nadeau introduced the One License for One DC Amendment Act of 2017. This act would make all IDs produced by the DMV look identical, regardless of immigration status. This would prevent ICE agents from using government-issued IDs as a means of targeting undocumented immigrants. By having one less fear, immigrant students can focus more on school and pursue their academic dreams.

The Access to Justice for Immigrants Amendment Act of 2017 is another extremely important bill, currently under Council consideration.  This bill will help to further defend the rights of immigrants, by supporting nonprofit organizations that provide civil legal assistance to low-income residents as well as civil immigration legal services.  With the passage of this bill, the District will have more lawyers capable of protecting the rights of all residents.

At the Columbia Heights Education Campus (CHEC), announcements are made about ICE raids to ensure that students are aware of safe routes home after school. Staff members at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School have posted papers of what to do when approached by an ICE agent and the DCPS policies regarding ICE raids. An annual resource fair for non-English speaking students is held at CHEC to help all D.C. students find the resources they need. DCPS has also released statements of their policies to ensure students know their rights and access their education. The actions taken by these schools have supported immigrant students and has made their school communities safer.

The D.C. Council has promised to “defend the safety, dignity, and liberty of all our residents.” While they have passed a lot of legislation that helps immigrant students feel safe, protected, and aware of their rights, our city still has a long way to go to guarantee this during the Trump era. It is necessary to promote diversity and cross-cultural interactions in our schools and our city, help immigrant students and their families feel safe, make sure all D.C. residents know their rights, and create a greater sense of community.

School staff should be encouraged to be bilingual and our city should attempt to campaign for more people to learn another language. All messages (phone calls, emails, etc.) sent out by D.C. schools, not just essential information, should be sent out with translations to help immigrant families of young learners have a better understanding of their school community.  Monthly legal meetings should be held at all schools so immigrants can know their rights and feel safer in their communities. School staff should obtain basic legal training to be able to educate immigrant students and their families. These changes help support immigrant students and their families and will make D.C. a better city for all residents.

As a sanctuary city, D.C. is a community for all. For Angel and the thousands of immigrant student like him, D.C. is their new home. To resist the divisive policies and rhetoric introduced by the Trump administration such as the “Muslim Ban” and the “border wall”, the District of Columbia must support immigrants in every way possible. Helping immigrant students become a part of our city’s community is necessary to make our city, and our country, stronger.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso. Eli Moraru is an intern with the Office of Councilmember Grosso and a rising senior at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School.*