Don’t be afraid of President Donald Trump.
That’s what Mayor Rahm Emanuel told freshmen entering a Southwest Side high school Tuesday morning for the first day of class.
It was no accident that the mayor, who’s been courting Hispanic voters as his popularity has flagged among the African-Americans who elected him, chose Solorio Academy High School to ring in the new school year because nearly a third of Solorio’s students are undocumented immigrants.
And it was also no accident that Emanuel’s message came shortly before the announcement of Trump’s decision to put an end to an Obama-era program giving legal protections to undocumented immigrants — known as Dreamers — who were brought to the U.S. as children.
But in an unusual message for the first day of school, Emanuel declared Chicago “a “Trump free zone.”
“To all the Dreamers that are here in this room and in the city of Chicago: You are welcome in the city of Chicago. This is your home. And you have nothing to worry about,” Emanuel said.
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool also sought to allay fears.
“This school is a sanctuary. We do not allow federal agents on these grounds and in this building. You are safe and secure here to learn, to grow and to pursue your dreams and we hope that you do so,” Claypool said.
Shortly after Trump was elected, CPS assured families schools would be a sanctuary, and banned immigration agents from school property unless they carried criminal warrants. Agents haven’t been known to target schools and some activists, including the Chicago Teachers Union, have pushed the school systems to enact stronger protective measures.
CPS wouldn’t say how many undocumented students it enrolls.
The Noble Network of Charter Schools estimates they have several hundred undocumented students among their 12,000 students, at 12 of their 18 campuses, and have worked to assuage their students and families.
“Even though it’s not final, final, it’s been very stressful for students as a whole and of course for parents concerned for the well-being of their children as well,” said Aide Acosta, who’s in charge of a private college scholarship program for undocumented students.
No one has left Noble schools, she said, but concerns rose after the November election of Trump, whose campaign focused on building a wall on the Mexican border and other anti-immigrant policies.
The school has ramped up supports for current students who don’t feel safe, she said. Another 168 more undocumented Noble grads currently attend 29 colleges on the scholarships, funded by the Pritzker-Traubert Foundation to supplant government grants that are only available to U.S. citizens.
Many of them have reached back to the school in recent weeks as rhetoric around DACA intensified.
“Some of them are stressed out, some are feeling anxious, some are feeling empowered: DACA does not define their lives, DACA does not define who they are,” Acosta said.
“We’ve been worried about them since November, not only in terms of losing families. The fear for all CPS schools was the fear that some of these children could be abandoned because of these targets around deportation. I feel fortunate that we live in Chicago and we live in a city that’s very supportive of immigrant families.”
Solario Principal Victor Iturralde said help is available for students dealing with anxiety over fear of deportation.
“This is a very trying time for them,” he said. “I know it’s going to be very stressful.”
Senior Sheyla Pena, 17, is part of the schools Dreamers Club, which gathers to discuss issues pertaining to Dreamers and immigration policy.
“It’s helped me feel free about my status,” said Pena, who explained common fears among Dreamers that the group seeks to overcome.
“I feel like we’re scared that something bad is going to happen if we tell people we’re undocumented and the first thing that we think of is ‘Oh my God. We’re going to get deported.’ Or I worry that something I do could affect my family members.”
Emanuel, speaking later Tuesday morning at a first-day-of-class rally at Harold Washington Elementary, 9130 S. University Ave., in the Burnside neighborhood, rang a bell to welcome kids to back to school.
Emanuel also noted that the school just received a Safe Passage Route and the program, which places adults along designated sidewalks leading to the school, has expanded to reach 75,000 kids since it was formed in 2011.