Emails cast doubt on claim of immigration visit to school

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Emails cast fresh doubt on a recent claim that immigration officials visited a Nashville school asking for student records.

In an Oct. 11 email among Nashville school officials obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request, district chief of staff Hank Clay said Una Elementary Principal Amelia Dukes told him she never said the incident was immigration-related. According to Clay, Dukes said a school employee told her it was U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after they left, but Dukes wasn't sure.

The previous day, the district had called them "immigration officials" in an initial public statement. A few days later, the district didn't repeat the term in a statement responding to scathing criticism from ICE, which said there was no evidence that its agents visited the school and added that ICE generally does not conduct immigration enforcement at schools.

Instead, the district described "two men in official-looking uniforms" ''stating that they were government agents" with "official-looking IDs" who "had a list of student names and demanded those students' records."

The prospect of ICE agents potentially entering a school that serves a significant immigrant student population stirred up outcry in Nashville, which was already on alert after high-profile run-ins between ICE and immigrants in recent months. It got the attention of Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who cited the ICE school visit allegation as he formed an immigration task force and rescinded the previous mayor's immigration order.

The email records still don't shed much light on who the visitors might have been, why the term "immigration officials" was used to describe them or if the district is now convinced they were not immigration officials. The school district has said its video footage files, which would've caught the interaction, only go back a few weeks. A district spokeswoman said she's trying to gather more information in response to AP questions about the incident and the principal's account.

"Principal said that she has never told anyone that it was immigration related," Clay wrote in the email. "She said two men dressed in military-style outfits visited her school. They had a list of families and asked for addresses.

"She told them that they do not give out information. She said they said that they were from the government and that MNPS would have to give it up. She said they showed IDs but that she can't remember what they were. She didn't remember having any information that they left behind. A fellow staff member told her that it was ICE when they left, but she did not know that for sure."

The principal notified school security the day of the incident and asked if they knew the requesters were in the building, Associate Superintendent of Elementary Schools Damon Cathey wrote in one email.

The district's statement riled federal authorities. ICE sent an email to news outlets Oct. 15 rebuking the claim. The same day, a Homeland Security investigator asked local police for information on the report, including names and video. He was referred to the school district.

"I have been tasked with looking into this issue for possible impersonator targets as there are no records of any local ICE agents or officers visiting the school, and a visit like that would be very out of the normal procedure," Homeland Security Investigations group supervisor Dennis M. Fetting wrote in the email.

School district officials also haven't given a precise date of the incident. In an Oct. 11 email, Cathey said he thought it would've been Sept. 1 or 8, but said the principal would ask her staff.

According to Clay, the principal also told him she "doesn't understand how this got out" and said she shared it during a "network meeting." The episode came up at a Sept. 11 district meeting, officials have said.

School board members have questioned why they didn't hear first from the district. Will Pinkston, a board member who represented Una Elementary's region until he resigned Sept. 30, said an incident like that should've been well-documented and reported to school district officials and the authorities.

"The fact that the school system doesn't have clear policies and procedures in place when it comes to this stuff is very, very troubling," Pinkston said. "That needs to get corrected yesterday."

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