Immigration Raid Leaves Schools Scrambling When a garment company was raided in New Bedford, Mass., last Tuesday, more than 350 workers were arrested — many of them with children enrolled in the town's schools. Fred Fuentes, the district's superintendent for equity and diversity, says his first challenge is to accurately count how many students have been directly affected.
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Immigration Raid Leaves Schools Scrambling

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Immigration Raid Leaves Schools Scrambling

Immigration Raid Leaves Schools Scrambling

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Fred Fuentes is the assistant superintendent for Equity & Diversity for the New Bedford school district. He's leading the effort to assist students whose families have been affected by the raid. He says that's more than 100 school children, though he doesn't have a full count yet.

FRED FUENTES: We have a young second-grader at one of the schools who the principal has been checking in everyday because the little boy is totally traumatized. So we're providing some counseling at the school, some additional supports in the community. In other schools, we're aware that the children are not - don't want to talk about what's happening because they're scared.

In some cases, the parents have instructed them or the caretakers not to say anything. So we're slowly engaging those students. We know who they are, when they are in their schools and we're working with them. In some cases, some of our schools are providing counseling. We have guidance counselors. We have intervention and crisis councilors working with them, and if there is a need for additional supports, one of the other's assistant superintendents for the student services is willing to provide any type of crisis intervention teams as well.

NORRIS: Are there cases where children are actually afraid to talk about their family situation, afraid that it might give away their immigration status?

FUENTES: Yes, they are. It means that we've had parents that have actually come to the school and talked to a principal in such fear that they're trembling, to say that they lost their job because of their immigration status - their current immigration status. They weren't part of this raid, but they lost their job and they're trying to deal with issues of acute health care of their child. So we're seeing that some parents are very nervous about this. We know that children are nervous about this as well, at least the older ones are.

NORRIS: I imagine some of these kids are asking some pretty tough questions. Where is my mommy? And where is my daddy? When am I going to see them again?

FUENTES: We - on Sunday, there was a demonstration that was happening in the community and we had small elementary schoolchildren with pictures of their mom saying have you seen my mother? Have you seen my father? These are elementary schoolchildren. These are little children. One of them is a preschooler with a little sign. Have you seen my mom? It breaks your heart, and if you - if anyone knows anything about New Bedford, this is an immigrant community. It has been an immigrant community for well over 200 years - many different types of immigrants.

So it's really hard to think that one group has been singled out in this typical way and what it's done to the community, because no one was thinking about the impact that it would have on children.

NORRIS: Because the school has been somewhat of a cocoon for these kids, at the end of the day, is it tough to send them home at the end of the day? Are there worries that they might not come back?

FUENTES: Yes, I mean, today we had a conversation with principals about that. You know, what do I do? and we just said, we have to wait. But people are very anxious about the situations of their children. And such is the immediate families we're talking about. What about the immigrant and undocumented folks that we have in the school system? They're probably running just as scared. It's what we call second wave syndrome. We want to make sure that none of them go underground, that they don't disappear on us.

NORRIS: Why is it the school system's responsibility? Why doesn't the immigration service - why isn't ICE step in and provide the services that these students need? Because it - after all, it was the immigration service, ICE, that actually conducted this raid and started this deportation process...


NORRIS: ...separating children from their families.

FUENTES: I don know why they don't. I just know one thing, that in the absence of anyone doing anything else, the New Bedford school system believes it has a responsibility to do something for its people. We have a strong belief that to do that is to do our function, which is to care for children, regardless of what anybody else is doing.

NORRIS: Assistant Superintendent Fuentes, thank you so much for speaking with us.

FUENTES: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was Fred Fuentes. He's the assistant superintendent for equity and diversity for the New Bedford school district.

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