Near the end of July 2017, ICE conducted raids across my hometown, Memphis, TN. By the agency’s count, 83 individuals were arrested in a series of raids that occurred in Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans between July 23 and July 26. Not reported in that number is the fact that ICE later admitted that it specifically targeted families in executing its operation. Predictably, as a result of the raids extreme anxiety and fear rippled throughout Memphis’ immigrant communities.
After the raids, as the new school year was about to commence, local press reported that many parents were scared to send their children back to public school. Parents were also afraid they would be picked up by ICE while their U.S. citizen children were at school and kids were naturally afraid that they would return home to find their parents gone. Many families considered keeping their children home to allay these anxieties, a result that would have kept these children from the educational opportunities that are integral to the American Dream.
It is sad and sickening to know that children everywhere are bearing this type of anxiety at the start of a new school year, when they should instead be thinking about meeting new teachers, making new friends, and sharing stories of their summer experiences. School should be a haven for children – a place to feel safe and supported – not a place where they are consumed by anxiety and fear that they will return to an empty home.
In the wake of these published reports, faith leaders across Memphis were stirred to action. A few days before the start of the new school year, across social media, pastors, priests, and rabbis put out the call for their congregations to come together to support and love our immigrant neighbors. On the first morning of the school year, members and leaders of multiple faith-based organizations joined together to welcome all students back to school and to remind our most vulnerable residents that the community loves and supports them and wants to keep them safe. Parents and community members were encouraged to bring welcoming signs, messages and attitudes.
One of the schools that saw a large outpouring of support was my own 10-year-old son’s elementary school, where he is in fifth grade this year. The school has one of the most diverse student populations I have encountered anywhere. While the surrounding neighborhood is largely Latino, as an optional school (known in other places as a magnet school), the school attracts students from across Memphis. My children have shared classrooms with students whose families hail from India, Iran, Korea, China, England, Pakistan, Mexico, and other countries, as well as with students whose families primarily live in Memphis and other parts of the United States.
When I arrived at school on that warm Monday morning to welcome others and to bring my own son to school, I was heartened by the large outpouring of support from our faith communities. People from all different backgrounds and walks of life were holding signs, encouraging children to have a great school year and telling them that they matter and are welcome.
As an immigration attorney, I hear my clients express fears about our country’s immigration policies nearly every day. It’s sometimes hard to remember that our neighbors, who are not necessarily faced with these issues feel tremendous compassion and are ready to provide their love and support when given the opportunity. I left school that morning energized by the knowledge that so many people in Memphis are ready and willing to act when the need arises to ensure that our most vulnerable residents feel protected. While ICE can try to tear our communities apart, the residents of our great city continue to work hard every day to make Memphis a closer, stronger community open to all.