Sanctuary schools? CMS seeks protection from immigrant arrests

After a week of rumors about immigration arrests in Charlotte, including near Berryhill School, Superintendent Ann Clark said Sunday she’s seeking a meeting with law enforcement to gauge their continued commitment to keeping such raids away from Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools and bus stops.

Students return to school on Monday amid lingering uncertainty about the nature and scope of immigration arrests taking place in North Carolina and other states. Almost 41,000 of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ 147,000 students come from families where English isn’t the main language spoken at home, although the district doesn’t track how many of those families include undocumented residents.

“The first thing I feel a need to do is validate that our schools are places our students can be safe,” Clark said. She said she had received such assurances from local law enforcement and federal immigration officials last year, but after last week’s reports, “I feel a need to validate that.”

Last week social media lit up with reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and/or local law enforcement were stopping people in east Charlotte neighborhoods with large immigrant populations as part of a deportation push. ICE insists there were no checkpoints or mass arrests but has not yet released details about the week’s arrests in Charlotte.

On Thursday, questions arose about whether raids had taken place at or near Berryhill, a majority-Hispanic K-8 school in west Charlotte, near the Catawba River.

According to a memo from Principal Cara Heath to her faculty, which was leaked and posted on social media, “both staff and students watched as some immigrants were taken in on their routes to school this morning.” But when the Observer inquired, the district shared a statement that Heath had sent to Berryhill families saying: “You may have heard rumors of immigration officers at our school today. I want to assure you that no such activity has occurred at our school.

“We realize that reports of immigration activity is a very sensitive matter for our students and school families,” the message to Berryhill families continued. “Please know that we have counselors on site to provide any social emotional support needed at this time.”

Clark said Sunday that Heath and other Berryhill staff had seen law enforcement “activity” on their way in to school Thursday. But because no students or parents were involved, it was impossible to know who was being stopped or why, Clark said. Similar confusion prevailed as people posted social media photos of people pulled over throughout the week, speculating that they involved immigration stops.

Concern about immigration enforcement disrupting school is not new to CMS. Last year an undocumented West Mecklenburg High School student reported that he was picked up for deportation at his bus stop. ICE officials said the 19-year-old was picked up on the same street as the bus stop, but not at the stop.

Now civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups in Charlotte are calling on local officials to protect local immigrants from what they describe as a push under President Donald Trump’s administration to target and remove undocumented people. Meanwhile, some Republican county commissioners and Charlotte City Council members say the city should make sure the police department is in compliance with Trump’s executive order on immigration.

People are expected to speak at Tuesday’s school board meeting, seeking more information about what CMS is doing to protect students.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms