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Non-Citizen Parents One Step Closer to Participating in Los Angeles School Board Elections

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LOS ANGELES – Most parents love to be involved in the decisions that affect their children’s education. However, undocumented parents have long been left in the sidelines, being unable to participate in the school boards that play an important part in the success of their children’s education – but for some Los Angeles parents,  that may change soon. 

Last Tuesday, Los Angeles Unified School Board (LAUSD) members voted 6-0 to begin researching a “potential future ballot measure” that would allow non-citizens parents to vote on the school board elections.

“Every parent, regardless of citizenship status, deserves a say in who represents them, their children, and their schools,” LAUSD board member Kelly Gonez tweeted. “Today, the Board took a critical first step in making that dream a reality.”

Earlier this year, Gonez, who represents the east San Fernando Valley in the LAUSD, formally introduced a resolution that proposes to explore a 2020 ballot measure that makes future LAUSD board elections inclusive for “all parents, legal guardians or caregivers of children residing within Los Angeles Unified boundaries”.

If the resolution were to be implemented, undocumented parents whose children attend the Los Angeles school district would be involved in fundamental decisions pertaining to their kids’ education including curriculum development, annual budgeting and overall establishing and maintaining a basic organizational structure for the local school system.

The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that more than 5 million children in the U.S. have an undocumented parent, and most of these children, 79% to be exact, are U.S. citizens.  When talking specifically about California, it is likely that 12.3% of K–12 school children have an undocumented parent, however, it is hard to pin down a concrete number. 

It is the law that school-age children who reside in California must not be denied a free public education based on citizenship status, and LAUSD — like many school districts — doesn’t track the citizenship status of the roughly 570,000 children who attend public schools within its boundaries. The same legal cases also limit districts’ ability to ask about it, since prying questions might discourage parents from enrolling their children in school, making it hard to account for the exact number of parents that could theoretically register. 

If ultimately enacted, LAUSD would join the San Francisco Unified School District, who after three attempts was able to grant non-citizens limited access to local elections. However, things haven’t been going as smoothly as hoped.

Due to the recent immigration enforcement doubling down, many parents in San Francisco are hesitant to participate in the elections. Because these parents can’t vote in other local races, they’ll receive a separate ballot and will have to fill out a separate voter registration form, which will require them to list their address, as is standard practice.

Voter registration data is public, and law enforcement, including federal immigration officials, can access it. Which means that, according to the Mother Jones, any of San Francisco’s 44,000 undocumented immigrants who register to vote will “essentially be sharing their address with ICE.”

During the board meeting, Gonez acknowledged LAUSD may not be able to move forward at all unless officials can safeguard the privacy of any noncitizens the district registers to vote. LAUSD will also be working with an immigrant’s rights group and other entities that would ensure privacy before proceeding so that Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cannot punish undocumented parents.

“I grew up in a family of immigrants, so this resolution means so much to me personally and professionally,” Gonez wrote on her Twitter account. “Our immigrant communities are deeply invested in our public schools. I look forward to the day they can participate in the election of their school board.”

Alexandra Tirado Oropeza is a Venezuelan journalist covering politics, immigration, entertainment and social justice. She moved to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue a Writing degree at The University of Tampa, and after graduating, she moved to Los Angeles where she works in broadcast and as a freelance writer. She’s passionate about equality, freedom of speech, art and dogs.