HISD addresses controversial ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy: ‘We stand by our families’

HOUSTON— As focus intensifies on reuniting immigrant families separated by the government, the Houston ISD is making it known that it is against the “zero tolerance” policy.

“The HISD family is heartbroken by images of young children being separated from their parents at the border. Children seeking asylum should not have to go through the trauma of being separated from their parents, especially after fleeing a violent or unstable situation in their home countries,” said HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

According to the Homeland Security official, the department this fiscal year has already referred 30,005 illegal entry cases to the Department of Justice, a 61% increase from fiscal year 2017, even before the policy took effect.

There were roughly 38,000 people caught trying to illegally cross the southern border each of the past two months, with the numbers ranging from 25,000 to 29,000 in the winter months. Roughly 5,000 to nearly 10,000 families per month were part of that total.

Since the policy was announced in May, some 500 children have been separated from their parents within the last month, according to Miguel A. Nogueras, an assistant federal public defender for the Southern District of Texas in McAllen, citing an unofficial count by an attorney in his office.

Some parents who are under arrest tell public defenders they don’t know what happened to their children, Nogueras said. Some parents also claim they have been told their children are being taken to be bathed or cleaned up, then the adults don’t see them again.

“We work with children every day, and we know how instability, stress and loss can impact a child’s ability to learn and develop. The district recognizes the importance of children remaining with their families and we urge federal officials to reunite families that have been separated,” said Lathan.

It has long been a misdemeanor federal offense to be caught illegally entering the US, punishable by up to six months in prison, but the administration has not always referred everyone caught for prosecution. Those apprehended were swiftly put into immigration proceedings and, unless they met the threshold to pursue a valid asylum claim, can be quickly deported from the country.

The current DHS plan makes no special arrangements for those who claim asylum when apprehended. While they will be allowed to pursue their claims and could eventually be found to have a legitimate right to live in the US, they could still already have a conviction for illegal entry.

HISD made it clear that whether the families are seeking asylum, or not, they stand by their students regardless of their immigration status.

“As HISD stands by these families, we also want take this opportunity to reassure our students and parents that the district remains committed to providing a quality education to EVERY student – regardless of their immigration status,” said Lathan.