Benicia Superintendent collaborated with students, community to warn against ‘La Migra.’ The game started before he could even finish.

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: Sheri’s words and work on the La Migra series need no introduction, so you don’t see me here often. However, this time, I would like to draw extra attention the painful reality that the 2023 La Migra game occurred on Cesar Chavez Day, as Sheri notes below. Benicia High School previously had a tradition of student-led ‘slave auctions’ that continues in other school districts; now imagine if one had occurred on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Whether the timing was coincidence or cruelty, I can’t say, but both represent a serious need for real conversations, and real change. Sheri is clearly invested in both, as is BUSD Superintendent Dr. Wright. (The above represents my opinion and my opinion alone.)]

Sheri Leigh speaks with Benicia Superintendent Dr. Damon Wright for the School District’s perspective 

Sheri Leigh
Sheri Leigh, Benicia resident and educator.

Once school was out for the summer, I met with Dr. Damon Wright, Benicia Unified School District (BUSD) Superintendent. We met in his office to discuss the impacts of the ‘La Migra’ games. Dr. Wright was welcoming and transparent in his manner, and open to ideas and public input. He and I found that we share a deep commitment to eliminating racism in schools and the community, and creating a safe and equitable environment for all young people.

Dr. Damon Wright became the Benicia Unified School District Superintendent in May of 2022, but he is not new to Benicia. For several years, beginning 2012, Dr. Wright was the Principal of Benicia High School. He then took an administrator position in the Fairfield School District Administration office before returning to us in his current leadership role.

Dr. Wright’s motto is, “education is the great equalizer,” and he is a champion for equity. He promotes holistic support for social-emotional, as well as academic, learning. He does not want our young people to be involved in the student-orchestrated ‘La Migra Games.’

Dr. Damon Wright, Benicia Unified School District Superintendent. | Photo from BUSD Press Release.

Although the premise of the ‘game’ is upperclassmen vs. lowerclassmen, the name, ‘La Migra; is triggering to many. Dr. Wright clearly recognizes the racially charged and highly offensive reference to the disturbing plight of the undocumented immigrants in this community and in this country. The game is not only potentially dangerous for the participants, it mocks the marked racially and socio-economically based imbalance between those who are established and hold the power, and those who are trying to get a foothold into a better life for themselves and their families. That’s the parallel- those that are on top versus those who are on the bottom. That explains the connection to ‘La Migra’ but hardly makes it right.

One of the preliminary action items on Dr. Wright’s agenda when assuming his leadership position at the Benicia School District was to stop the students from participating in the La Migra game. He began his efforts in earnest during the fall of 2022. Working in tandem with the City staff and the police department, Dr. Wright and his team developed a plan of action.

At school, Dr. Wright worked closely with Benicia High School Principal Briana Kleinschmidt, engaging the staff and student leaders to discourage student involvement. Although only a small percentage of the school population actually participate in the game, the school leaders made an all-out effort to educate the community about this tradition.

Dr. Wright and school administrators sent several pieces of correspondence to staff and families, informing them about the La Migra games and encouraging parents to keep their students home. The student based group, Friday Night Live, which promotes healthy and safe student activities, took it upon themselves to create and put up posters, dissuading students from participating in the games. Other student leaders talked with their classmates about the implications of the game and cautioned them against being part of it.

Click to enlarge. On March 29, 2023, BUSD issued a warning to parents and families of students that the game was imminent, describing its rules and warning of the potential physical and emotional harm. Despite this warning, and the coordinated, widespread and targeted efforts of BUSD staff and students along with other community partners, the game continued. Twenty children were apprehended by the police, with one facing charges of assault and battery.

At the community partnership level, Dr. Wright participated in meetings with police and city officials. Together, they learned of the date, time and location of the starting point of the 2023 game, which ironically happened to be on March 31, the national holiday set aside to commemorate the Latino American civil rights and labor movement activist Cesar Chavez. The police also carried maps of the City, tracking possible routes from the starting point to the destination or endpoint of the game, and where underclassmen, posing as undocumented immigrants and refugees, were attempting to reach on foot before being ‘captured and deported’ by the upperclassmen.

Dr. Wright, along with several other school officials and five police vehicles, went to the opening of the game that evening. Dr. Wright spoke to the students who were there. He urged them to consider the emotional impacts of the game on anyone who had any experience with or fears of immigration and the perpetuation of a racist attitude towards the disenfranchised. He indicated the awaiting police officers and gave one final plea for the students to reconsider their intentions before they got hurt or became unwittingly involved with law enforcement. He challenged them to change their evening plans and go home safely without consequence.

Before Dr. Wright was finished speaking, the ‘game’ began. That evening, several students were apprehended by the Benicia police. These students were detained at the station and remanded to their parents. One upperclassman was charged with battery for wielding and firing a pellet gun.

A lawn with kids running away.
‘La Migra’ is slang for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is the name used for this controversial game based on ICE agents deporting undocumented immigrants. This image is from a 2018 video showing footage of the Game starting.

Because the La Migra games are not school-based, nor do they happen on school property or during school hours, the District cannot enforce any disciplinary action. That restriction is outlined in the California Department of Education and Benicia School Board Codes.

However, if the games continue, Dr. Wright is willing to consider other types of consequences for participants. For example, school-based extracurricular sports and other teams or clubs have their own Codes of Conduct, which can be revised to include consequences for inappropriate social behavior outside of school. The privilege of participating in graduation events can also be considered.

Last year, the efforts made by Dr. Wright and his team to inform the community and discourage the students from taking part in the Migra Games had a positive impact. There were fewer students participating in the La Migra Games in spring of 2023 than in previous years. More parents were aware and kept their children home. Dr. Wright is proud of the efforts of his team and the students and families who took a proactive and progressive approach towards abolishing the game, and looks forward to a continued concerted effort, eventually resulting in the elimination of any celebration of  La Migra. It is his hope that within a short time, the game will become less and less popular, and Benicia students will finally and irrevocably do away with this hurtful and unsafe tradition.

Share your story

If you would like Sheri to hear and share your perspective on the ‘La Migra’ Game, please contact her through the Benicia Independent. Remember that it is your story that is critical for others to hear, not your name, unless you would like to be identified.
Reach out to Sheri:
Leave a voicemail for the BenIndy: ‪(707) 385-9972‬

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