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Phoenix High School District Responds To Immigration Raid Fears With 'Know Your Rights' Forums
It’s early evening at South Mountain High School in Phoenix and school leaders are dimming the lights in the auditorium for the night’s presentation.
"You have the right to remain silent," said Karina Ruiz with the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition. "If you start answering questions you start giving up your Miranda rights. " Ruiz's group was one of several immigration advocacy organizations taking the stage Tuesday night talking to parents about what their rights are if they encounter immigration officials.
While school officials posted fliers across the district, just a few dozen people showed up, filling up the first two rows of the auditorium.
"We think we had a low turnout because of the fear," Ruiz said.
She said typically her group hosts these “know your rights” forums in people’s homes to reduce the fear of being raided. Ruiz said this was one of the first times they’ve partnered with an entire district. This Tuesday was the first of three forums being held this week in the district.
"We’re hoping that slowly but surely the crowd of people are going to start to coming back," Ruiz said. "You know, losing the fear after they see that they’re not going to get raided at one of these events."
She’s hoping word will get out that these school resource fairs are safe to attend.
"There’s been a lot of fear, which the community has expressed to us at every single board meeting for the past few months," said Stanford Prescott, a governing board member for Phoenix Union High School District’s 2nd Ward. "And tonight is about addressing some of those fears so that they can feel more confident."
He said that confidence is key, because when students are consumed with thoughts that they or their parents could be deported, they’re not absorbing lessons well or focusing on homework.
"I hope that students and their families get a sense of what resources are out there," Prescott said. "That they have some of their questions answered, and they know that Phoenix Union High School District is a safe space for every student regardless of their immigration status."
In addition to the talks happening on stage Tuesday, attendees were also given folders with legal documents like G-28 forms that immigration attorneys need before representing someone, and worksheets to help families create a safety plan.
"I learn that everyone has rights," said Elisa, who gave KJZZ only her first name. "I have the right to tell parents and the children don’t be scared because they can do something and they can apply their rights."
Elisa lives in the district and said she's grateful for the information, which she plans on sharing with her neighbors that didn’t come.
"And with all this information I can support them more," she said.
Back in the South Mountain High School auditorium, community advocate Karina Ruiz is wrapping up the evening with a skit.
"La gente de inmigración. Abre la puerta," said Ruiz, pretending to be an immigration enforcement agent. "Buscamos a Gloria Garcia."
She said she’s hoping the audience can come away with a few important lessons so they can avoid situations like Manuel Montes said he recently faced.
According to a USA Today report, Montes, who is believed to be the first immigrant with active DACA status, or Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals, deported under the Trump administration. He told the paper he “signed a lot of papers” he didn’t understand and answered questions just hours before being deported.
"And I was like, 'oh man, you should have come to one of the forums to learn that you don’t have to,'" said Ruiz.
Officials at Phoenix Union High School District said this week’s forums are just the beginning. While school leaders say they will always follow federal law, they’re hoping events like this will help the community feel more confident that the school is a “safe space.”