September 22, 2017
State Superintendent Torlakson Hosts “Beyond Safe Havens” Conference with State Attorney General Becerra and
Sacramento Mayor Steinberg
SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson joined State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, and a panel of diverse education experts to discuss support and strategies for students that could be harmed by deportation.
The discussion—which included emotional testimony from several participants—kicked off the “Beyond Safe Havens” conference at the California Department of Education (CDE) on Friday, September 22.
“Diversity makes us strong. It makes our economy powerful. Our students come from many cultures, religions, and countries—and they are all welcome,” Torlakson said. “Our schools, cannot and must not, be arms of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Every student is guaranteed a free and appropriate public education in California.”
Attorney General Becerra shared his personal story and encouraged everyone to stay involved. “My father got to the sixth grade. I was the first in my family to go to college,” said Becerra. “We want to train every child that has an imagination and welcome them, not push them out. If we do this, California will continue to be a leader in this country.”
Becerra continued. “My friend, Congressman John Lewis, stated the only way to make things happen, to fight injustice, is to get in the way. You are getting in the way of this current political climate. You are getting into ‘good trouble.’”
Student panelist Fatima Avelica tearfully recounted the day her father was detained by immigration officials near a school in Los Angeles when she was 13.
“We noticed cars following us on the way to school. We were pulled over and my father was handcuffed,” she said. “I encourage all students to speak up and tell their stories. If they don’t speak up, there’s nothing people can do for them.”
Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar talked about his own experience when his father was detained in Arizona and put through deportation proceedings in 2009. Aguilar was then pursuing a law degree, and he successfully defended his father from being deported.
“Our schools in Sacramento will always be a welcoming place. Employees are protected as well,” he said.
Steinberg concluded the discussion by recalling the lessons of history from World War II.
“We know about the ‘good people’ that turned their backs as people suffered. However, we know about other individuals who risked everything to help. I am proud of California, I am proud we are going to be a sanctuary state, I am proud we are a sanctuary city,” Steinberg said. “We will never compromise the civil rights of people, ever. We will resist at every turn. However, there is a silver lining. The resistance is enhancing our civic engagement and democracy. This too will pass. It will pass with us protecting millions of people—and be told in history in a much different way.”
Torlakson agreed. “We need to take further steps to make sure that students who could be affected by new federal immigration policies have the support they need to succeed at every level, the school, the district, and from the state,” he said.
The panel included Education Trust-West Executive Director Ryan Smith, UnidosUS California Regional Director Feliza Ortiz-Licon, Ed. D., Superintendent Aguilar, Sacramento School District Board Trustee Jessie Ryan, Contra Costa County Superintendent Karen Sakata, and student Avelica. Sacramento Univision News Anchor Viviana Páez moderated the panel.
The conference builds on Torlakson’s campaign to encourage districts to declare themselves “Safe Havens.” This action, taken to date by at least 116 districts representing 2.7 million total students, signals to the broader community that all students are welcome, and provides information about how students’ personal records and citizenship status are protected. Some districts have passed similar resolutions but have described them in different ways.
Torlakson’s Safe Havens campaign has met with widespread support. In April, the Public Policy Institute of California conducted a statewide poll finding that 74 percent of all parents in public schools and 64 percent of adults supported the idea of schools being Safe Havens.
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Tom Torlakson —
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100