Zimmer wants LAUSD attorneys to defend students who face deportation

By Gary Walker

LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, pictured in a campaign photo, is calling on the school district to provide legal help for kids who face immigration issues

LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, pictured in a campaign photo, is calling on the school district to provide legal help for kids who face immigration issues

Taking a cue from President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions to reprioritize immigration enforcement, Los Angeles Unified School District board member Steve Zimmer wants LAUSD lawyers to represent students who face deportation hearings and advocate for kids whose parents may be deported.

“I have long believed that the intersection of immigration issues and public education is an obvious one,” said Zimmer, who represents Westside voters. “Even children born as U.S. citizens and who do not face deportation also suffer the stress of not knowing whether an undocumented parent will come home at day’s end.”

Zimmer is proposing that LAUSD lawyers be encouraged to shoulder immigration court duties on a voluntary basis. The school board is expected to vote on the plan this month, possibly as early as Tuesday.

On Dec. 9 board members passed a resolution coauthored by Zimmer that instructed LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines to draft plans for assisting unaccompanied immigrant children as well as students who may qualify for relief under Obama’s expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The president’s Nov. 20 executive actions give undocumented parents of American-born children or those with permanent resident status a three-year reprieve from deportation orders. Undocumented parents who have been in the country at least five years can also apply for work permits.

According to the White House, an estimated 4.1 million undocumented immigrant parents could now be eligible for deportation delays, including more than 1.1 million in California — more than any other state.

“The need for volunteer attorneys is very great now. Los Angeles County is the largest county in the United States where most people are eligible to qualify for DACA,” Los Angeles immigration attorney Shiu-Ming Cheer said.

Supporters of Zimmer’s resolution say immigration-related uncertainties can hamper students’ academic achievement.

“Whenever a student’s status is in question it can have a real effect on how they progress in school. They need an advocate,” said Alfredo Ortiz, principal of Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista, which has a majority Latino student population.

“I believe that education is a basic human right and that all children are entitled to a public school education. It is incumbent upon the state to provide that education,” Ortiz said.

In addition to any assistance LAUSD might provide, the National Immigration Law Center has agreed to assist students who qualify under DACA, and, unlike LAUSD, will also directly help their parents.

Cheer, who volunteers at the law center and is a member of Los Angeles County’s DACA Task Force, said the group is training non-attorney volunteers to fill out DACA applications and answer basic questions about federal policy changes.

“We’ve seen the negative consequences of what happens to students whose parents or siblings might be deported. We’ve really got our work cut out for us,” she said.

Venice High School held an immigration relief application assistance workshop on Jan. 21 and plans to hold another on Wednesday.

In Zimmer’s Westside school board district there are thousands of students enrolled in Spanish and English language immersion initiatives at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School as well as Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista and  Broadway Elementary School in Venice.

“We believe that there are students in our dual language immersion programs that are directly affected by the president’s action,” Zimmer said. “What we have often discovered is that the students who we least suspect [of facing challenges] may have these types of immigration issues.”

Ortiz said he believes many of his students likely fall into the categories that Obama outlined in his immigration actions, but his concern is not their immigration status.

“I’m an educator. Politics should be left to the politicians to allow educators to educate,” he said.