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Salt Lake City schools seek more input before vote on immigration-enforcement policy

First Published      Last Updated Mar 07 2017 11:25 pm

Details to be worked out about how schools can respond to immigration enforcement.

The Salt Lake City Board of Education declined Tuesday to pass a resolution that lays out what school district employees can do to protect students from immigration officials, opting instead to gather more input.

Passing such a resolution is a priority that supporters said gained urgency after people recently parked four unmarked vehicles and donned U.S. Department of Homeland Security vests and guns on Salt Lake City School District property.

Yet postponing the vote is exactly what supporters who got the resolution on the agenda wanted.

"The resolution that they're trying to pass right now, we feel, doesn't have legal power behind it," said Amy Dominguez, a spokeswoman for Unidad Inmigrante, the group that is proposing the measure.

Backers wanted more clarity before the board passed the proposal, which would inform the district's employees how to respond if they were contacted by immigration officials.

But board members first debated whether matters were urgent enough to pass the resolution Tuesday.

The push for the district to support undocumented students comes after school districts in other states have passed similar resolutions.

Unidad Inmigrante members worked with board members and Superintendent Alexa Cunningham on the resolution's language.

But two members of the group opened the meeting by asking the board to avoid a vote until the resolution covers which actions employees could take to deter immigration officials' interference with students' education.

"We would feel much more comfortable having these things addressed in one go, so as to show the community that this is a wholesome, legitimate commitment [with] legal backing," Dominguez said after the meeting.

The board's president, Heather Bennett, said such resolutions were rare. The group typically drafts letters stating the board's position, she said.

She said she was surprised the resolution's supporters wanted members to wait for a vote. President Donald Trump's administration has taken steps to prioritize deporting undocumented immigrants, and the resolution's supporters said community members were uneasy.

"[This] is a really important thing to move forward with," Bennett said.

The initial draft that supporters proposed "had several things in it that we felt we couldn't include, not because we didn't wish we could offer those protections, but because we're not legally able to do that," Bennett said.

Bennett wasn't the only one who said she feared inaction.

"I also worry about delaying in a way that doesn't reflect the urgency," board member Melissa Ford said.

Edison Elementary School Principal Laurie Lacy confirmed through a district spokesman Tuesday night that the people who had guns and Homeland Security vests were in the school's parking lot for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday's resolution would have instructed employees to immediately contact the district's executive director of policy and legal services if contacted by immigration officials or state or local officials acting on behalf of the federal government. The executive director wouldn't grant agents access to students "unless required to do so by law."

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