‘I Have Children Crying In The Classroom’

On a cold Friday morning, more than 50 people sit in the auditorium of the Benjamin Franklin Health Science Academy in Brooklyn. Many have small children fidgeting on their laps.

The families are here for a “Know Your Rights” forum on immigration hosted by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., and the local school district. Given the new, intensified immigration enforcement priorities announced by the Department of Homeland Security in February, the purpose is to help people understand their legal rights with regards to asylum, applications for citizenship and more.

A representative from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office speaks, followed by representatives of legal-assistance and community groups. During the Q&A, one woman broke into tears as she described, in Spanish, her fears of deportation.

There are many tears these days, says the woman who initiated this event, the school’s parent coordinator, Christian Rodriguez.

“I have children crying in the classroom, crying in my office,” she says. “When I ask them, ‘Why are you crying?’ They have expressed to me that they don’t want their moms to be apprehended and taken away from them. It’s something heavy on my heart.”

Rodriguez has been the parent coordinator at this pre-K through 8th grade school ever since New York City’s Department of Education created the position at schools citywide in 2003. Before that, she worked in Velazquez’s office.

Enrollment in this school, on the Williamsburg/Bedford-Stuyvesant border of Brooklyn, is more than 80 percent Hispanic. Rodriguez says the families here come primarily from Mexico, then the Dominican Republic, followed by elsewhere in Central America. “I am from Nicaragua and as an immigrant also, can relate to their suffering and the situation they are going through right now,” she says.

By ANYA KAMENETZ for NPR
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