MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to look more closely now at how the fear of deportation is playing out among one particular group of people - actually, at a particular place - a high school in Maryland. Prince George's County is a closed-in suburb of Washington, D.C. Some 80,000 foreign-born Hispanics live there, according to the census. One school in that County, High Point High, is called Central American Ellis Island by its principal, Sandra Jimenez. Close to 70 percent of the students are Latino. Principal Jimenez says the fear of raids is scaring some of her immigrant students from coming to school. Principal Jimenez was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C., studios to tell us more about this. Thanks for joining us. Thanks for coming in.
SANDRA JIMENEZ: My pleasure. Thank you for offering.
MARTIN: So recently the CEO of the county's public schools, Kevin Maxwell, released a statement saying he was, quote, "deeply troubled by the fear and uncertainty that exists in so many of our school communities as a result of the actions of DHS." Tell me about that dip in attendance. What have you seen, and when did you start to see it?
JIMENEZ: So we started to see it right after the Christmas holiday. And mostly we're seeing a drop in the students who are the most recent arrivals in the school system, so the students who have gotten here within the last year. So we have about 120 of the newcomer students, so those students are coming at a rate of about 50 percent. Those students who have gotten to know the school and the school - the United States and the United States system, they actually know that there are rules and that the police actually have to follow the rules. People who are the newest arrivals still carry the trauma from their country that there are no rules, that the police have ultimate power and they can do anything they want to do. So there's still that trauma.
MARTIN: You're saying half of them aren't showing up.
MARTIN: And were they showing up before?
JIMENEZ: Yes. We had at least 92, 93 percent attendance in those students.
MARTIN: Now, I do want to mention that we reached out to the Department of Homeland Security. We asked them to join our conversation. They have declined, but they have put out a statement saying that there are no raids going on at any schools, that this is absolutely not true. Is it that the students just don't believe it?
JIMENEZ: To a certain degree, it's not the issue of school. It's the issue of the community. They're afraid to go out. Some of the newest arrivals are your unaccompanied minors who may not have people to support them and orient them to get them to come to school. So we're reaching out to those students.
MARTIN: Do you have any sense of how many of your students overall are without proper documentation?
JIMENEZ: So last year, we participated in Michelle Obama's FAFSA initiative, which is the federal application for financial aid. And so the only people who can fill out the federal application for financial aid are students who are documented. So we asked every senior to fill out the form but only those were documented could do so. And it ended up being that 50 percent of our seniors could fill out the application.
MARTIN: Well, I just want to ask you this because I am aware that there are people who will be listening to our conversation who will not be synthetic to this at all. I mean, their argument is that this is a nation of laws. The laws must be observed.
JIMENEZ: It's also the law that a person who is in the United States has the right to an education. My perspective is that as long as you are a member of my community, I want you educated. Whatever you do on the border, that's a politician's role and beyond my pay grade. But once you become a member of the community, it's my responsibility to educate you. As long as you're here, you need to be moving forward.
MARTIN: Principal Jimenez, thanks so much for speaking with us.
JIMENEZ: My pleasure, thank you.
MARTIN: Sandra Jimenez is principal at High Point High School in Prince George's County, Md. That's close to Washington, D.C. She's experiencing a drop in attendance believed to be because of fears of immigration raids. And we say once again that Homeland Security told us in a statement that the agency does not conduct raids. "Immigration Customs Enforcement focuses on those who have been issued a final order of removal from a judge," unquote.
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