A Vista school meeting with an immigration attorney — set up to help parents prepare to protect their families should they be suddenly deported — was abruptly canceled Thursday (February 23), hours before it was set to begin.
The Vista Unified School District confirmed it was a district decision to cancel the meeting, expected to draw dozens of Vista-area parents to the Rancho Minerva Middle School.
"We were concerned that they hadn't gotten a permit from the district and the event didn't have the required insurance," said Vista Unified School District Kyle Ruggles, who is the director of human relations for the school district.
Teachers from Rancho Minerva Middle School and other schools in the district had organized the meeting in the past two weeks. They had recruited immigration attorney Esther Valdes to come and talk to the parents. Two teachers (who asked that their names not be used) confirmed the meeting had been set and then canceled.
Vista is a city of about 98,000 people, about 47,000 of whom are Hispanic. The city has about 24,000 children and youth between the ages of 5 and 18, according to the U.S. Census. The school district website says that of its 22,000 enrollees from kindergarten to high school, 60 percent are Hispanic and 58 percent qualify for free or discounted lunches, an indication of lower incomes.
Teachers worked with the San Diego County Office of Education's Migrant Education Program to set up the emergency meeting. Valdes volunteered her services and planned to bring documents and people to notarize them with her. She declined to comment on the sudden cancellation but outlined why the meeting was so important.
"Parents need to be prepared for the worst, and that preparation is detailed and complicated," she said. "Little kids need to have a key to the house, ten dollars in their pockets to get home, a cell phone, and someone to call to pick them up at school. Kids with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival need to be able to document that they've applied or they need to apply right away."
Undocumented parents who face deportation must decide if their U.S.-born children should stay in the U.S. and with whom — and have given those adults the signed permissions and powers they will need. If they are going to have their children meet them in Mexico, they need to have registered their American children as dual citizens of the U.S. and Mexico at the consul here, because Mexican schools won't accept students who are U.S. citizens.
"Those examples are just the beginning," Valdes said. "There are still tools to protect these families but they don't know about them and won't be told if they are detained for deportation."
One teacher blasted school-district officials for cancelling the meeting, saying the district had 700 absences since the nation’s president began issuing stepped-up deportation orders.
"These families are frightened and understandably so," she said. "I know my principal supports trying to help these families but the district doesn't. If it was their children or their neighbors' children they would understand but they just don't."
Dozens of parents showed up at the middle school Thursday night and were turned away, she said. "We are going to make this happen, community leaders are going to find a venue that will have us…. Politics should never come before the safety and help we can give the families we serve."