CMS’s weak commitment to undocumented parents

From Rafael Prieto Zartha, editorial director of the Charlotte based Spanish-language newspaper Qué Pasa-MI Gente, in response to “CMS right about volunteer safety” (Sept. 11 Our View):

If the undocumented mother, Esthela Hernández, lived in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago or Houston, she could fully participate in the education of her two children, because the school districts of those cities do not make it mandatory for parents to submit Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses in order to volunteer in schools.

But Esthela lives in the Queen City, where Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools does not allow undocumented parents to volunteer, despite 27,000 Latinos attending its learning institutions.

CMS’s excuse for writing these parents off is the safety of children, arguing that the best way to do criminal background checks of potential volunteers is through a Social Security number and a driver’s license.

The aforementioned school districts, with sizable Hispanic student populations and more experience with immigrant students, conduct background checks with the basic information of the applicant. Those districts accept other universally valid documents, such as a passport.

In Los Angeles, all volunteer applicants are checked against the California Megan’s Law online database for sex offenders. Individuals volunteering for more than 16 hours per week are fingerprinted by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Here in Charlotte, the online volunteer registration application mandates, with red asterisks, the input of driver’s licenses and the Social Security numbers.

After a meeting in June with Esthela and other members of the grass roots organization Action NC, the Chair of the Board of Education, Mary McCray, initiated a CMS working group task force charged with finding ways to allow undocumented parents to volunteer in schools.

But the chairwoman’s good intentions have crashed with the CMS bureaucracy.

Esthela is the only member of the group of 21 who has experienced the odyssey of being undocumented. The rest are bureaucrats from CMS, County, City and PTA organizations. Only six belong to independent institutions.

Since July 8, the group has had only four meetings. I have attended all but the first, at which the press was excluded.

Most of the time has been wasted in long dissertations about “who is a volunteer and who is a visitor?” instead of dealing with the group’s true objective.

CMS has not acted honestly with undocumented parents and their advocates.

The fact that a CMS spokesman told the Observer’s editorial board that district officials don’t want to compromise the thoroughness of background checks and the safety of students, is proof that since the beginning CMS had no intention of changing the current policy.

The group is supposed to gather for conclusions on Sept. 24, but the decision apparently is already made.