Detroit school district provides sanctuary status for immigrants

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Cass Tech High School in Detroit. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • Cass Tech High School in Detroit.

Detroit Public Schools Community District has decided not to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other federal agencies to encroach on its property without a search warrant.



The district has also chosen to refrain from collecting information about the immigration statuses of its students. These formal protections were put in place last week as part of DPSCD’s efforts to define how it will operate as a sanctuary district, according to Chalkbeat Detroit.

One protocol indicates that principals should call school administration before allowing any immigration officers into their schools.



“We have drawn a line in the sand, to say that when children come into our schools, they are safe,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said, according to Chalkbeat. “As superintendent, I’ll be the first to put myself at the front door to say, ‘You’re not coming in to our schools.’”

Detroit is home to a large number of Hispanic and Middle Eastern immigrants. While many are long-term and established documented residents, it’s possible that any newer residents who are undocumented might fear deportation. DPSCD is the largest school district in Michigan, and school officials have faced ongoing pressure from community members — ever since President Donald Trump took office — to ensure that undocumented immigrants would be safe while on school property.

Hamtramck School District has implemented a similar policy, as have other districts around the country — including in Miami, Chicago, and New York City. After immigration officials proceeded to arrest hundreds of immigrants in Mississippi on the first day of school, the need for such sanctuary protections is palpable.

“We want our students to come to school and focus on teaching and learning, and not on whether the federal government, or any kind of authority, is going to rip them out of their schools,” Vitti said, according to Chalkbeat.

This is one of several cases where schools and cities have been receptive to the requests of immigration advocates. As Metro Times previously reported, Dearborn said in August that it will no longer hold detainees for ICE.

Concern over ICE interrogation is on the top of residents’ minds, as MT also reported that border patrol has been harassing brown citizens on Belle Isle this summer.
All of Michigan is an ICE ‘border zone,’ which means that residents are subject to warrantless searches and detention. The Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from those random and arbitrary stops and searches, doesn't apply, since the state is surrounded by the Great Lakes and falls within 100 miles of a border. This may explain why the state has the second highest rate of arrests.


According to the ACLU of Michigan, people have the legal right to tell border agents the following — even if they are undocumented:

• "I am not required to answer your questions about my immigration status and do not wish to do so."

• "I do not consent to a search of my belongings." 

• "I wish to remain silent." 


People can also: 

• Video record the interaction. 

• Tell others they have rights and should use them, but do not block officers from performing their duties. The ACLU provides further information on immigrants' rights.


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