The founder and executive director of Academia Avance, a charter school program with three campuses in Los Angeles, is Ricardo Mireles. Academia Avance is described on its website as a college preparatory school. It has 400 students in grades 6-12. Of these, 98 percent are designated Latino, 20 percent are non-U.S. citizens, while 90 percent qualify for free lunches or reduced-price lunches. As a charter school, Academia Avance receives public funds.
The school gained notoriety when student Fatima Avelica Gonzalez recorded the arrest of her father, Rómulo Avelica-González, by immigration agents while dropping off her sister Yuleni at school. Her video went up on social media and Fatima told officials at Academia Avance. The school then cooperated with an immigration advocacy organization and held a school assembly, ostensibly to calm students concerned about future such arrests. Out of the incident, the school developed plans for how to respond to immigration arrests.
In response to immigration raids on places of work and elsewhere, schools such as Academia Avance in large metropolitan areas have adopted “sanctuary school” policies. These policies may include prohibiting the admission of federal agents to school property unless the have a warrant, and shielding students’ personal information from immigration officers.
In addition, California’s legislature is considering a Senate Bill 54 that would bar police from assisting with federal immigration officers. The legislation would prevent police, including school police, from “using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purpose.” In a statement, Sen. Kevin de León declared, “Our limited law enforcement resources are squandered when police officers are pulled from their duties to arrest otherwise law-abiding maids, students, busboys, and day laborers for immigration violations.” The news release added, “Undocumented residents will not report crimes for fear of deportation and criminals will roam free to victimize others.”
De León claims that his bill, SB 54, will reduce crime. However, county sheriffs and Republican lawmakers have denounced the proposed law. They argue that it is passed, federal funding would be jeopardized, and put violent career criminals on the street.
It has been the policy of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency since 2011 to avoid enforcing the law at “sensitive locations,” including churches, hospitals, and schools, unless “exigent circumstances exist” or other enforcement actions lead officers to the site. Rómulo Avelica-González’s arrest has piqued the concern of activists in California. Afterward, California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly asking for clarification. He wrote: “I have consistently told students and their families that they must feel safe and protected at our schools, especially families who are refugees, Muslims, or undocumented immigrants. Recent actions by federal law enforcement agents around schools have raised serious concerns.”
The Los Angeles Board of Education voted last week to join a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s executive order that would withhold federal funds to local jurisdictions (such as San Francisco and Los Angeles) that adopt sanctuary city resolutions. The State of California has also challenged the federal government on how and where it conducts immigration raids.
Last week, Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye of the California Supreme Court wrote to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary Kelly to accuse the Trump administration of “stalking” California courthouses in order to detain suspected undocumented immigrants and demanding that the arrests stop.