Latino students shaken, Roaring Fork Schools administration regretful after career expo included Border Patrol 

U.S. Border Patrol Agent and Recruiter Luis Bustamante speaks with students at Tuesday's Career Expo at Glenwood Springs High School.
John Stroud/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Latino students are shaken, and the school district apologetic after a career expo at Glenwood Springs High School included a table with agents from Border Patrol, an agency under U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“Why the h*ll was Border Patrol there? For what reason are they here? Why, in this Latino-majority school? Something we’ve been taught always is like this fear of deportation — documented or undocumented,” questioned a student. “I need something to change to be able to feel safe in school knowing that my race, my ethnicity isn’t a problem.”

The annual career fair is meant to be a fun and educational way to introduce Roaring Fork School District high schoolers to career opportunities in the valley and beyond. Students get to chat with representatives from over 100 employers, all while picking up free merchandise and getting out of morning classes with their peers.  

But at Tuesday’s event, the mood shifted when students realized that an agency responsible for the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants sat among the employers.

How did Border Patrol get there?

This is the first year that the school partnered with Carbondale-based Youthentity to host the expo after multiple years partnered with GlenX. Law-enforcement and public safety employers are regular features of the expos, but this is the first year that Border Patrol appeared. 

“In previous years, Glenwood Springs High School did see that list (of employers) in advance. This year, we did not,” said Roaring Fork Schoold Public Information Officer Kelsy Been. “So obviously, we need to make sure in future years that we are working more closely with Youthentity, so that we’re seeing who’s going to be there before the day of.”

She said that the school and the district deeply regret the oversight, but will not bar Border Patrol from participating in future job fairs. Rather, should the district choose to include Border Patrol, the school will “do so thoughtfully in terms of their location at the event and communication ahead of time.” 

Superintendent Jesús Rodríguez issued an apology statement Wednesday and reaffirmed the district’s commitment to ensuring students feel safe from threats of “intimidation, hostility, or violence, including threat of deportation.” He has not mentioned any opposition to the Border Patrol nor stated any intentions of banning them from future career expos.

“I think (the district is feeling) regretful and apologetic. I know that Dr. Rodriguez feels that if even one student felt unsafe, that we messed up,” Been said. “And although we weren’t at the table reviewing who was going to be at the career expo, we should have been. And we will be next time.”

She shared a statement from district principals via email:

Youthentity Director Kirsten McDaniel declined an interview but provided this statement via email: “Earlier this week, Youthentity’s first Career Expo was held at Glenwood Springs High School. Over 90 exhibitors were present including the U.S. Border Patrol. I sincerely apologize to any student or community member who was inadvertently hurt by their presence. The purpose of the event is to connect students with a variety of professionals to learn more about their career paths. This includes students who may want to serve their local community, state, or country in a law-enforcement or military capacity. Discussions have already taken place with superintendent Dr. Rodriguez and we pledge to work more closely together regarding future events to help ensure all students feel safe.”

In an email statement to The Times, Jason Givens of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol wrote:  “CBP attends numerous career fairs at colleges, universities, high schools, and other locations throughout the nation. CBP has a number of excellent career opportunities available that feature competitive salaries and an exceptional benefits package. CBP representatives attend career fairs to benefit students who might be seeking a career in law enforcement or civil service within the federal government. Representatives from CBP who attend career fairs are only there to discuss employment opportunities and not to conduct law-enforcement activities.”

The presence of the Border Patrol drew criticism from state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, and the Latino advocacy group Voces Unidas.

Latino student reactions

The Roaring Fork School District’s student body is 55% Hispanic as of the 2021-22 school year, and Glenwood Springs High School’s makeup is about 51% Hispanic. 

As a majority-minority school and district, Latino students said they expected greater care and sensitivity from their school.

The Times is using pseudonyms for the students since they are minors and fear that some family members could be endangered by identifying them in connection with their immigration status. 

“I didn’t see it straight away. But I heard from a friend when I walked into the main gym that there was Border Patrol at the Career Expo,” said Adrian, 16. “To any Latino, it’s crazy to see because essentially, it’s ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). … It’s scary to think that at my school, where I went to the Career Expo to see if there’s a job that I was interested in, but I go and see (Border Patrol). It just made me feel very unsafe.”

He said that it brought back traumatic memories of his uncle’s deportation a couple years back, and that there are members of his family whose immigration status is not secure.

Another student, Vanessa, 17, said the sight of the Border Patrol agent and table frightened her.

“I’ll be honest, being from an immigrant family, I walked faster than I walked past other things,” she recalled. “I avoided that area and just walked away as quick as I could. … It’s just something that makes me nervous, scared.”

Adding to the layer of fear, just weeks prior, she asked some of her teachers to help write letters of hardship to assist with her dad’s immigration case. The letters demonstrate to the federal government how the deportation of a person would cause more harm than good. 

Vanessa said asking her teachers to help with those letters was extremely difficult.

“It’s something that you’ve always been taught to keep to yourself. You don’t tell other people you have undocumented parents. You don’t tell people you’re that kind of stuff or that, like, there’s a chance of deportation in your family, you keep that to yourself,” she said. “Having to tell my teachers was really hard for me and really uncomfortable. Especially when they would ask me about it, I would try to end the conversation as quickly as I could. After going through all that stress and all that uncomfortableness, seeing Border Patrol at school was just kind of an anxiety (inducing) thing. It made me nervous and just made me not want to be there.”

For Samuel, 16, seeing Border Patrol at the expo was upsetting but not a surprise. 

He said he feels that Latinos are often targets of racist behavior at school. Vanessa agreed that she has seen it, too.

In the student/parent portal Infinite Campus, Samuel said he saw and heard from friends that teacher comments noticeably changed in tone for minority students as far back as elementary school.

“Comments like, ‘doesn’t pay attention well, rowdy, disorderly.’ When you compare that to white kids … it doesn’t really go as harsh as it would for Latinos,” he said. “And racism has made a pretty big comeback in the school, too. Even during the Career Expo the police were giving out Blue Lives Matter stickers.”

“Blue Lives Matter,” referencing law enforcement’s “blue” lives, is viewed by many police reform advocates as disrespectful to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Apart from Latino staff, Samuel said he does not feel like he has a strong support system at school among faculty. And even though no one in his family is undocumented, Samuel expressed fear for kids newly arrived in the country or whose immigration status could be questioned. 

“Being a fresh immigrant, and there’s many in our schools, and having to see basically your number one enemy there is kind of … you would want to stray further from the school,” he said.

In an email to The Times via Been, Glenwood Springs HIgh School Principal Paul Freeman wrote: “We are committed to supporting all of our students each and every day. Racism will absolutely not be tolerated. We always encourage students to report any wrongdoing to a trusted adult or through Safe2Tell.”

All three students agreed that it will take a long time and more action to regain trust that their school will keep them safe, though they were reluctant to place blame on Superintendent Rodríguez. 

“I don’t feel like a Latino should apologize for an oversight that affects Latinos,” said Samuel. 

Topic long under discussion

Discussions over the role of immigration enforcement in schools have spanned years in the Roaring Fork Valley. And after a number of advocacy groups called for the separation of school resource officers and immigration enforcement, an agreement to cease information sharing between agencies arose. But not an official memorandum of understanding. 

“There is not a signed MOU,” said Been. “With our local law-enforcement agencies, we certainly have a working agreement. One of the reasons the current MOU wasn’t signed was around the cost associated with it. So I think both parties are working as though we have a signed MOU, so it’s not just a handshake. I think we all are following our agreement. But I think there’s just a piece around funding that has prevented the signatures from getting on that document.”

She said that disagreements over what the school district pays each local law-enforcement agency for the school resource officers are why the MOU has not officially been signing. 

The school district does not track and cannot legally ask anything that would imply a student’s legal status or their guardians’.

In 2016, the Board of Education passed the Safe Haven resolution. And they recently passed a policy stating law enforcement’s involvement in schools cannot be immigration related. Been said that the district sees the Border Patrol incident as failing the resolution.

“When we think about why this was a problem, it’s not because of a violation of MOU, either with SROs or Youthentity,” she said. “We think of it as a violation of our resolution to keeping our students feeling safe in our schools: free from intimidation, hostility or violence, including threat of deportation.”

Correction: Roaring Fork Schools public information officer Kelsy Been misspoke when she said the district would not include Border Patrol in future career expos. “The statement about banning them at future events was my misunderstanding. We absolutely would want to know they were coming so that if we chose to have them participate, we could do so thoughtfully in terms of their location at the event and communication ahead of time,” she said. The article has been updated to reflect that change.