The leader of Miami-Dade County public schools sharply criticized the Trump administration’s immigration policies Tuesday morning during a keynote that sounded like part stump speech, part sermon.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho delivered an impassioned address opening a bipartisan summit on immigration reform at the University of Miami, relating his own “journey” as a Portuguese immigrant who was once in the U.S. illegally.
“I came to this country at 17. I overstayed my visa. Put the label on me,” said Carvalho, who now leads the nation’s fourth largest school district. “I was poor. I am an immigrant. I was undocumented. I was, in the eyes of some, illegal. I was homeless under the bridge blocks away from where today I work.”
The event was hosted by the IMPAC Fund, a Coral Gables non-profit that raises money for the legal defense of non-felon immigrants. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, members of Congress and Archbishop Thomas Wenski also participated in panel discussions.
During his 20-minute speech, Carvalho denounced the federal government’s recent decision to end a program protecting Haitians, Nicaraguans and others from deportation. The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program allows people from countries that are affected by natural disasters or war to temporarily reside in the U.S.
There are 12,000 children enrolled in Miami schools, plus nearly 6,000 adult learners, from countries that are affected by TPS. Nicaraguans benefiting from the program now have until January 2019, and Haitians, July 2019, to leave the U.S. or face possible deportation.
Describing people who are here because of TPS, Carvalho said: “They are 12,000 school-aged kids going to school right now in Miami. They are from Central and South America. They are from Haiti. They are from Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua. They are us."
“How dare we accept the breakup of a community?” he said.
Carvalho also affirmed the school district as a "sanctuary" for children who are undocumented at a time when immigration enforcement has ramped up — a period the superintendent referred to as "dark days."
“Over my dead body will anyone walk into our schools and yank any child from the sanctity and the protection that schools, as sanctuaries of the young, provide,” he said. “Not on my watch.”
Carvalho said he expects to get feedback that his speech was too political for the leader of a school system. His response: Standing up for kids isn’t political, he said.
“It’s not a Republican thing. It’s not a Democratic thing. It is a reasonable, rational, compassionate, humane thing,” he said, “and we need to separate one from the other.”
WLRN's Tim Padgett contributed reporting.