Dozens of people showed up for a protest at a New Westminster school on Saturday to support a mother who was detained by immigration officers shortly after dropping off her child.
The unnamed mother was reportedly followed by Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) officers and handcuffed in an alley on her way home from École Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School.
She was subsequently released, with the CBSA not providing a reason for the arrest.
School District 40, in New Westminster, has a "sanctuary schools" policy in place to support underdocumented immigrants trying to give their children an education.
Many members of the community, as well as immigration advocacy group Sanctuary Health, showed up at the school on Saturday morning as part of a rally against the CBSA and the federal government's immigration policies. They also marked the occasion of International Migrant's Day.
"I was really heartened by how many people came," said Maya Russell, a school board trustee in New Westminster and one of the speakers at the rally. "I hope that families who are in this situation take a little courage from the support out there."
Other speakers at the rally included New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian, City Councillor Chinu Das, and New Westminster Teachers' Union president Sarah Wethered.
The New Westminster school district is the only one in the province with a sanctuary school system in place, which also forbids CBSA officials from entering school grounds except when required by law.
Russell says the provincial schools act does not require citizenship to qualify for free education in B.C.
The act states that the child has to be a resident in the school district, and makes no reference to nationality or citizenship.
"We believe that every school in the province should have the same approach," Russell said.
"It's actually an international human right of children to be in school. This is not some idea we've come up with."
Russell said the federal government's immigration policies forced precarious migrants into "dangerous" situations.
"I think a lot of us don't realize how much of our labour is coming from people who are not given the same security that the rest of us count on," she said.
Omar Chu, one of the organizers of the rally, says the mother and daughter are in weekly therapy sessions and the child is still attending kindergarten classes at the school.
"I think it's really important that school districts in this moment take a stand and say that all children in our community have the right to education," he said.
"Schools are for education. Students and parents [should] not be afraid to send their kids to school."