San Antonio Superintendent to Testify Before Congress on U.S. Immigration Policies

Pedro Martinez is the latest member of Chiefs for Change to speak out about how the policies affect students 

Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of more than 30 state and district education leaders, announced that Pedro Martinez, chair of the group’s board of directors, will testify at 10:15 Wednesday morning before the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee at a hearing focused on how immigration policies affect students. Martinez is the superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) in Texas, approximately two and a half hours from the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the committee not as a Republican or as a Democrat, but as an American, an immigrant, and the leader of a school system enriched by immigrant students,” Martinez said. “I plan to offer my perspective on the importance of upholding the law and serving all students well, regardless of their immigration status.”

Martinez, who grew up in Mexico and moved to the United States when he was five years old, says his family’s story shows the greatness of this country. Although his parents never earned more than $7/hour, Martinez and his siblings have risen out of poverty and are proud Americans helping to improve the nation and serve their country: Martinez as superintendent in SAISD, three siblings as teachers in Chicago Public Schools, and another who served three tours in Iraq as a Marine.

SAISD serves approximately 49,000 students. Ninety percent are Hispanic or Latino, and a similar percentage are economically disadvantaged. In his prepared testimony, Martinez notes that: “San Antonio itself is a city rich with immigrants. They are productive and hard-working individuals who become great contributors to the community and our schools.”

Martinez states that he has seen a remarkable turn in the conditions of immigrant students and their families following recent federal and state policies. “Recently, San Antonio has felt more like ‘an underground culture’ where people stay in the shadows, support others quietly, and rarely go to community resource centers for help. . .This atmosphere [has] contributed to student attendance rates dropping, parents and other family members becoming less likely to attend school events, and some enrollment decline.”

SAISD has taken a number of steps to support immigrant students and their families. It created a Welcome Center that provides academic testing, resources, and social services; produced a handbook in English and Spanish that describes the role of police in schools and explains that they do not act as immigration authorities; holds an annual Dream Summit for undocumented students to learn how they can access higher education opportunities; hosts Pláticas, or safe community conversations, in many schools; and conducts trainings to ensure that students know their rights and that teachers, counselors, and other staff have the information they need to support immigrant families.

Martinez has been a member of the Chiefs for Change Board of Directors since September 2018 and was recently selected as chair. The bipartisan network is focused on advancing policies and practices that make a difference for students and is united around a core set of beliefs, including that schools must be safe and welcoming places for all children and their families. The chiefs believe that students should be free to learn, free from fear. In addition to Martinez, several other members have shared their personal stories about moving to the United States and/or their thoughts on the need for comprehensive immigration policies that protect undocumented individuals and strengthen our society. These chiefs include:

  • Robert Avossa, former superintendent, The School District of Palm Beach County (Florida)
  • Tommy Chang, former superintendent, Boston Public Schools (Massachusetts)
  • Susana Cordova, superintendent, Denver Public Schools (Colorado)
  • Hanseul Kang, state superintendent, District of Columbia
  • Robert Runcie, superintendent, Broward County Public Schools (Florida)

Chiefs for Change has spoken out against attempts to overturn Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and the continued litigation in the courts. The bipartisan network has also urged Congress to work across the aisle to develop a legislative solution that will protect Dreamers and provide certainty for students and educators.