First Call Letter Urges Burnaby School District to Establish Sanctuary Schools

We have heard from many of our member organizations about families who fear enrolling their children in school for fear of being asked to disclose their lack of immigration status. This results in the denial of their children’s right to education, a right Canada and BC committed to uphold through signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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Supporting Sanctuary Schools in Burnaby

In April 2016 West Coast LEAF wrote a letter calling on the Burnaby Board of Education to establish a Sanctuary Schools policy so that all parents, regardless of immigration status, can feel safe sending their children to school without jeopardizing their lives in Canada. Such a policy would also reduce barriers for undocumented women experiencing abuse because they would be able to flee violence without fear of undermining their children’s access to schooling.

Read their letter here.

Burnaby board ponders sanctuary schools policy

The Burnaby Teachers’ Association (BTA) wants the school board to adopt a policy that would make accessing education easier and less frightening for families like hers.

Last month, the teachers’ union invited trustees, the district parent advisory council and local immigrant rights activist Harsha Walia to a meeting to discuss a possible so-called “sanctuary schools” policy.

“What was identified is that, although there was no instances of staff being aware that any student has been turned away, the concern was that’s because parents aren’t sending them in the first place to register because of the fear of being discovered with less than legal status,” said trustee Gary Wong, chair of the board’s policy committee.

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BCTF’s sanctuary schools policy

Migrants throughout Canada are living without status. “It could be that they came on a temporary work visa, or they actually ran away or crossed the border because where they were they feared violence,” says Natalie Wai, a Vancouver teacher and member of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) in a phone call “In one instance, a Mexican family, they were threatened with violence, so the mom took their son and daughter across the United States and came to Canada. They don’t have a work or student visa. They have nothing, but they came in order to escape violence. They could have an expired work or student visa and they don’t want to go back so they stay, and they try to be eligible to try to find work.”

They’re also trying to access basic services – from health care, food banks, libraries, public transportation, and education – but the fear of being identified as residing without status keeps many from doing so.

Even children who were born here and therefore are automatically permanent residents are affected by federal immigration laws. If the parents are undocumented, many fear they’ll have to prove their immigration status in order to enroll their kids.

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Sanctuary in New West schools

Students who may be at risk of deportation, could one day find safe haven in New Westminster schools.

The district took the first step towards adopting a sanctuary school policy at its education policy and planning committee meeting last week. The policy would ensure students, regardless of immigration status, have a safe and welcoming environment to learn without fear of being deported or detained.

“We have a significant obligation to children in our community that, for one reason or another, don’t feel comfortable around enrolling and accessing those services,” trustee Casey Cook told the Record.

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Vancouver’s Hidden Children

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Many undocumented families, fearing deportation, don’t enrol kids in school. Thousands of migrants without legal status likely living in B.C.’s Lower Mainland are targets of federal Conservatives tightening immigration laws and cracking down on “illegals.” Education is just one front in a daily battle for non-status immigrants to access services most of us take for granted, but which also include health care, public transit, and safe work.

Continue reading “Vancouver’s Hidden Children”