A Safe Haven

By Del Stover

On a hill overlooking the border town of Nogales, Ariz., a rust-colored, 12-foot-tall fence of heavy steel plating cuts across the landscape, a stark and brutish symbol of American’s hardening resolve toward illegal immigration. A few miles away, on a barren stretch of desert where a roadblock straddles Interstate 19, green-uniformed Border Patrol agents stop traffic heading north.

Contrast these formidable barriers to nearby Sopori Elementary School. One sunny morning, 4-year-olds pour out of a preschool classroom, all chattering excitedly in Spanish, as they leave for a field trip. One pint-sized youngster, with a perfect olive complexion and pitch-black hair, looks up and offers a bright smile before chasing after his classmates.

Is this child an American citizen? Or does he live here illegally? Unlike the federal government, the Sahuarita Unified School District deliberately avoids those questions, citing an unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“Educators are people who help children, not worry about anyone’s immigration status,” says Jay St. John, superintendent of the 4,600-student school system. “That’s not our job.”

For generations, public schools have served non-English-speaking children, helping them assimilate into American culture while legally turning a deaf ear -- thanks to a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling -- to their parents’ immigration status. But, with a historic presidential election just two months away, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to shut out the noise amid the immigration raids and airwaves filled with debate about amnesty and the security of our nation’s borders.

Would you like to continue reading?
Subscribers please click here to continue reading. If you are not a subscriber, please click here to purchase this article or to obtain a subscription to ASBJ.