Immigration enforcement officials
are now targeting migrant and seasonal Head Start centers in
some states as part of efforts to track down illegal
immigrants, the executive director of the National Migrant
and Seasonal Head Start Association says.
Yvette Sanchez, president of the Washington,
D.C.-based association, was in Milwaukee this weekend for a
meeting of the national board of directors at United Migrant
Opportunity Services Inc.
She said immigration surveillance is emerging as one
of the top three issues for the group, comprising migrant and
seasonal Head Start directors, staff, parents and friends.
Financial appropriations and the need for more bilingual
materials are the others, she said.
"Several kids and babies died in the fields because
parents were fearful of sending them to Head Start,"' she
said in an interview.
"Since early 2007 many of our programs started to
notice that Border Patrol of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) vehicles were parked outside their centers
and some were following buses picking up children," she
Jason Ciliberti, supervisory Border Patrol agent in
Washington, D.C., said it's not the agency's policy to stake
out Head Start centers.
"It could have happened if we believe there was an
immigration violation afoot, but it's not our policy or
practice, I believe."'
Gail Montenegro, a spokeswoman with ICE in Chicago,
said, "All U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
operations are targeted based on leads received and
subsequent investigations. Generally, our operations avoid
actions at school settings. ... However, we will take into
custody during these targeted operations anyone encountered
who may be in the country illegally."
In testimony before the congressional subcommittee on
work force protections in May, ICE officials were provided
with a list of dates and places regarding ICE activities near
migrant and seasonal Head Start programs in Florida,
Tennessee, Georgia and New Mexico, according to a letter sent
to ICE officials in Washington by the Congressional Hispanic
"We ask that ICE enforcement and intimidation
tactics near migrant and seasonal Head Start centers cease
immediately," U.S. congressmen Joe Baca, Luis V. Gutierrez
and Ruben Hinojosa wrote.
"Parents were fearful of going to the centers or
letting their kids get on the bus, and enrollment went down
in some parts," Sanchez said.
Some centers have taken signs off the buildings and
buses, she said.
In Tennessee, one family took their baby with them to
the fields and left the baby in the truck where the baby
died, she said.
The criteria for participating in migrant and seasonal
Head Start programs is low family income and agricultural
employment, she said. "Since the Head Start program was
started in 1965, we have never asked families if they are
citizens, and it's never been a requirement," she said.
Migrant and seasonal Head Start programs operate in 39
states and serve more than 30,000 migrants and 3,000 children
of seasonal farm workers, she said.
children from 6 months to school age and also provide a
variety of health, nutritional and transportation services.
United Migrant Opportunity Services operates eight
migrant and seasonal Head Start programs in Wisconsin that
serve 530 children.
Cris Cuevas, director of the United Migrant program,
said centers here have not been staked out by immigration