An incident at East Boston High School last week has sparked a debate locally of balancing the safety of students in the wake of the Florida school shooting and the need to protect the immigration status of students at Boston Public Schools.
Last Wednesday police arrested 19-year-old Kevin Vasquez Funes and charged him under the ‘bomb threat’ statute. Suffolk County District Attorney spokesman Jake Wark explained the statute covers threats to do harm with a gun or other weapon.
Funes was held on $5,000 bail at his arraignment but the Salvadoran national was later detained by ICE agents at his home after it was found he entered the U.S. illegally in 2015.
Funes will remain in ICE custody pending immigration proceedings.
In a statement from BPS spokesman Daniel O’Brien, O’Brien said Funes “made verbal threats of violence toward our school community.”
“Our staff immediately took action and contacted Boston School Police and the Boston Police Department,” he said. “BPS has strong protocol that advises school leaders to contact Boston Police and the BPS Legal Office if ICE were to ever appear at a school looking to detain an individual.”
Following the mass shooting at a Florida school last month that killed 17, school districts across the country have been taking every threat very seriously. But while the nation debates gun violence and mass shootings at U.S. schools many are also debating the Trump administration’s crack down on illegal immigration and whether or not ICE has any business inside local schools–especially in Eastie were over half of the neighborhood’s population comes from Central and South America.
City Councilor Lydia Edwards said she believes EBHS administrators have made sure ‘all’ students feel safe and welcome regardless of immigration status.
However, the East Boston Times reported last month that BPS police report about an incident at the high school that was later shared with the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, or BRIC, had immigrant rights activists concerned.
The incident involved two students trying to start a fight at the EBHS, but were unsuccessful in doing so. According to the School Police report, the matter was resolved at the school level without any physical altercation and “school administrators along with school police spoke with all the students involved and mediated this incident.”
However, while cooler heads prevailed, an incident report was filed by school police advising that the incident report would be sent to BRIC, a network of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies including ICE.
While ICE maintains that the agency does not have access to student incident records except in extreme circumstances such as “gang-related homicides or possible threats to public safety” Matt Cregor of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice said school police making unsubstantiated gang allegation on reports about immigrant students allows these reports to enter into BRIC and later accessed by ICE. Cregor argues that school police may be overusing the word ‘gang’ or ‘gang-related’ on these reports to ensure the reports find their way to federal authorities.
With that said the latest incident at EBHS seems to fall within the scope of ‘extreme circumstances’ because Funes made threats to ‘shoot up’ the school. The threat made by the student against the school last week was certain to get ICE involved.
Despite ICE’s earlier statement that the agency would most likely would get involved in a case similar to last week’s EBHS threat, Cregor said he still doesn’t believe ICE should be involved in our schools.
“We do not question BPD’s involvement after the student was alleged to have made the threats,” he said. “Nor do we question the court’s decision to release the student on bail. These facts demonstrate that our local law enforcement and courts were actively addressing this matter. However, we seriously question how another immigrant student from East Boston High School ended up in ICE custody for something that happened in school.”
Cregor pointed to the Columbine school shooting and how the U.S. Department of Education and other federal authorities determined that the best way to stop school shootings was to encourage trust between students and school leaders.
“With trust, students are more willing to come forward at the first whispers of such threats, and adults can respond preventatively,” he said. “ICE’s arrest of this young man may chill that trust, and will likely make students – and their parents – think about deportation risks and immigration consequences before reporting such concerns to school leaders.”