Students, parents and teacher posted messages of defiance on the entrance of the school

By Yael Mora, age 11  

On a Thursday in early March, I was in math class listening to my teacher, Mr. Cheesman, give a lesson on how to convert mass, weights and volume. Then, at lunch, I played chicken with my friends.

It was just a regular day at my school, P.S. 128M in Manhattan’s Washington Heights—until the white pickup trucks with “U.S. Customs and Border Protection” written on them showed up outside my school.

I had no idea what was happening or what the trucks were doing there. Then, after leaving Robotics Club, I went outside to meet my mom, and I found out what was going on.

A reporter told us trucks from the immigration agency were parked outside. She said that many people in the area were scared and fled. They didn’t want to be questioned by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent.

Two Customs and Border Patrol trucks parked outside of a school building in Washington Heights

It was then that I went from being an unaware spectator to being part of the story. A reporter from Univision 41 interviewed me, my mom, and my robotics teacher, Ms. Hirsch.

The reporter asked Ms. Hirsch, “How do you feel about the immigration police separating families?”

She said, “It is inhumane that the ICE agents separate families that help the community.” She was crying. She was afraid that ICE would come to take people in my community away.

I was afraid, too. I didn’t want to be separated from my mom, family and friends.

It turned out the officers parked on our sidewalk to have lunch across the street, but their presence at our school frightened us all. Our principal asked them to move their trucks because it could be seen as threatening.

What happened at my school stayed with us because it speaks to the broader fear many immigrants have about being taken away and even deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE. Technically the trucks belonged to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, not ICE, as we first thought. But for our community there’s no difference.

Ms. Hirsch summed up our fears when she said, “I find it inhumane and a violation of people’s human rights. I believe that immigrants have contributed enormously to the development of this country.”

My classmate, Rosell, added, “We’re a family,” meaning that if something terrible happens to one of us, it affects all of us.

When the immigration agents try to intimidate immigrant communities, it’s important we remind ourselves of that. Immigration agents may be taking people away, but they can’t take away our humanity and all of our contributions to this country.