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Vancouver Leaders Address Immigration Fears In Community


Diana Perez is the director of the Washington State League of United Latin American Citizens. She spoke at an event to address fears related to immigration and immigration enforcement in Vancouver, Washington, Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Diana Perez is the director of the Washington State League of United Latin American Citizens. She spoke at an event to address fears related to immigration and immigration enforcement in Vancouver, Washington, Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Molly Solomon/OPB

Vancouver city officials and community organizers gathered Thursday in a show of support for Southwest Washington’s immigrant community.

Their aim was to alleviate fear and anxiety over the Trump administration’s enforcement of immigration law.

Leaders from local law enforcement, school districts and the city — including Mayor Tim Leavitt — gave speeches at the downtown library.

“There was an urgency to bring our leaders together and share the message of hope and support,” said Diana Perez, the director of the Washington State League of United Latin American Citizens.

“Because the fear is real,” said Perez, who has heard from several migrant families fearful as a result of their immigration status. “And now with the thought of having our families torn apart, that hits home.”

John Deeder has witnessed those fears firsthand.

As the superintendent of Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, Deeder has had to debunk rumors of immigration officials coming into schools. He’s worried fear is affecting attendance.

“Even this morning when I was in a classroom, I heard two kids asking each other about whether their families were going to be OK tonight,” Deeder said. “That’s not a learning environment for kids. That’s an environment of fear.”

Evergreen Public Schools is planning to discuss the issue at an upcoming board meeting Tuesday. In recent months, letters have been sent home to Evergreen parents declaring district schools as safe places for all students. A resolution was also passed in support of anti-discrimination practices.

Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb said his district recently sent a letter to staff and parents stressing their commitment to a safe learning environment.

Thursday’s event also served as a reminder of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits schools from sharing personal information, including immigration status, with outside parties.

“This is about ensuring that all children, regardless of status, have a free and appropriate public education experience in our schools,” Webb said.  

The Southwest Washington chapter of LULAC plans to continue the conversation in a series of bilingual workshops focusing on immigrant rights.

The first meeting, for Spanish-speakers, will be held at 6 p.m. March 16 at the Evergreen Public Schools’ administration office. A second meeting in English will take place at 6 p.m. March 22 at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus.

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