Teachers may have to help deport their students

The government is moving forward with the proposal for mandatory reporting of undocumented children for, among others, school staff. Union spokesperson Johanna Jaara Åstrand is highly critical.
The government is moving forward with the proposal for mandatory reporting of undocumented children for, among others, school staff. Union spokesperson Johanna Jaara Åstrand is highly critical.

The right-wing government may compel teachers to report undocumented children – a proposal that has been met with strong criticism. 'It is an undemocratic development,' says Johanna Jaara Åstrand, the chairperson of Sveriges Lärare.

Skellefteå 20 september 2023 11:55

In early September, the government and the Sweden Democrats introduced what is commonly known as the "duty to report" or "reporting bill" as critics call it.

This is one of the pillars of the Tidö agreement that underpins the current government and would mean that personnel in areas such as education, health and social services would be required to report any undocumented immigrants they come into contact with at work. The aim is to make it more difficult to live in Sweden without permission.

However, the proposal has been heavily criticized, especially by trade unions.

Johanna Jaara Åstrand, the head of Sweden's largest academic union, Sveriges Lärare, visited Skellefteå last week and made her stance clear:

– Teachers should teach children to read and write, not help deport them from the country.

In early September, thousands of people protested against the proposal in one of the largest demonstrations in Stockholm in several years.

– Our mission as teachers is to follow the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. To ensure that all children and students receive the education, support and safety to which they are entitled. Legislation like this would go against that, she says.

She believes the law would cause many teachers to leave the profession.

– In a municipality such as Skellefteå, which already has a severe shortage of teachers, this would be a serious blow.

– Suddenly, teachers would not only be responsible for the development of the students. They would also have to deal with a lot of administrative tasks that are currently undertaken by the police, for example. It's an undemocratic social development that teachers strongly oppose, she says.

Johanna Jaara Åstrand believes that the mandatory reporting requirement could lead to teachers switching professions.

There may be situations where reporting would violate so-called "compassionate grounds", and it should therefore be considered whether certain professional groups should be exempted from the law. The Sweden Democrats, however, want all activities to be included, while the Liberals assume that there will be exceptions, for example for schools.

Representatives of the Tidö parties have stated that the purpose of the law is to counteract the shadow society, the part of society made up of undocumented people. In addition, it is considered important that the legal system is respected and that people who are not allowed to live in Sweden actually leave the country.

Don't they have a point?

– No, in fact the law would bolster the shadow society. In countries where this kind of legislation exists, families hide children and young people from preschools and schools. If you want a shadow society, this is the legislation you should enforce, says Jaara Åstrand.

Migration minister Maria Malmer Stenergard (M) emphasizes that several EU countries have introduced similar laws.

But surely teachers aren't just ordinary individuals. Aren't they public servants with a responsibility to act when something is wrong?

– Of course we have a great responsibility. But that responsibility also means that we have to put a stop to these kinds of tendencies. Reporting laws are not compatible with democratic principles.

Norran has also been in contact with a teacher working in Skellefteå who is very negative about the proposal.

– It would feel incredibly wrong if this proposal were to become reality. The teaching profession is based on trust, and such a law would undermine the students' trust in us teachers, says the teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous.

They stress that school staff can, of course, have different political views.

– I respect that. But at the same time, I am convinced that no one became a teacher to act as a border guard. Teaching does not become more attractive if we have to get involved in things that go against our moral convictions.

The teacher also finds it difficult to understand how a mandatory reporting law would work legally.

– As a teacher, how am I supposed to know and judge which students should be reported and on what grounds? Would I have to report all students who don't have a Swedish surname? According to almost all my colleagues I've talked to about this, this as an idea that would be incredibly detrimental to our professional work.

Mikael Johansson, the local chairman of Sveriges Lärare in Skellefteå, shares this view.

Mikael Johansson, chairman of Sweden's teachers in Skellefteå.

– The members I've talked to say the same thing; it doesn't feel like something that should be our job. As teachers, we sometimes have contact with the authorities, but it's always for the good of the children, he says.

According to the government, the reporting requirement will be examined as part of the ongoing investigation into measures to strengthen the deportation process. The inquiry is expected to present its findings no later than September 30, 2024.

–This law would increase polarization, segregation, mistrust and insecurity in society. I hope the inquiry is thrown in the trash, says Jaara Åstrand.

Current policy

Undocumented children currently have the right to education and healthcare. Undocumented adults have the right to emergency healthcare. A mandatory reporting law would require public sector employees to report undocumented migrants.

Several regions want an exemption for healthcare workers and some municipalities have called for the proposal to be scrapped altogether. Experts also warn that it could clash with other laws and agreements such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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