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Citing New Documents, Advocates Call On Boston Public Schools To Stop Sharing Info With ICE

More than 100 student incident reports containing students' personal information and produced by Boston Public Schools (BPS) officials have been made available to federal immigration authorities since 2014, according to education and civil rights advocates.

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) and others sued the city of Boston and BPS in June 2018 after they were denied access to the records. Janelle Dempsey, an attorney with LCR, said in a statement that the newly released documents suggest alarming "collusion" between BPS and federal immigration authorities.

“BPS is creating a dangerous school-to-deportation pipeline that must be stopped immediately,” Dempsey said.

Boston Public Schools officials issued a statement Monday, saying the district has unwavering support for immigrant students and only shares reports with Boston police if they involve a criminal investigation or contain information useful to ensure public safety.

In an interview with WBUR on Tuesday, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius noted that the documents in question were shared from 2014-2017

"We do not share information with the federal authorities at all," she said. "In my tenure, we've already taken steps to provide a safe environment for our children and make sure that these things are not shared."

The LCR's lawsuit followed the 2016 arrest of an East Boston High School student by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The student, whom WBUR interviewed in 2018, was involved in a lunchtime argument that resulted in a school police officer filing a student incident report. The report labeled the student, who had no criminal record, as an associate of the gang MS-13. He was arrested by ICE nine months after the report was filed.

The student remained in ICE detention for more than a year before eventually being deported back to his native El Salvador.

The school officer noted in the report that the incident would "also be sent to the BRIC." The Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) is a unit of the Boston Police Department that gathers and analyzes intelligence. The information is shared with federal law enforcement, including ICE.

A review of some incident reports between 2014 and 2017 sent by BPS school officers to the BRIC cited non-violent disciplinary issues, like "graffiti" and "disturbing a school assembly." BPS officials added in the statement that in March 2018, the district rewrote a policy placing stricter guidelines on how Boston school officers share incident reports with the BRIC.

In response to this story, a Boston Police Department official told WBUR that the BRIC is owned and managed by the City of Boston and BPD, not the federal government. The official also said sharing information with the BRIC does not automatically result in a "reciprocal, automatic sharing of said information with the federal government."

According to WBUR's previous reporting, BPD documents did confirm that one person working within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of ICE, is able to access the information in the BRIC.

Mayor Marty Walsh defended the school system Monday, saying that immigration status is not included in the district's incident reports, and that only serious threats are sent to BRIC.

"Whatever BRIC does with the information after that, they'll do some type of investigation to see if it warrants any further progress," Walsh said.

At-Large Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia, the first Latina on the council, said the information-sharing breaks the trust between the city and the community.

"We need to do a better job as a city to make people feel safe," she said, "and if we send our kids to schools we need to know that they're going to come back home and that they're not going to be police officers or ICE officers waiting for them."

Mejia said she planned to more closely monitor details about the school district's policies on sharing information with Boston police and federal officials.

Carrie Jung contributed to this report

This article was originally published on January 06, 2020.

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Shannon Dooling is an immigration reporter at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

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