The risk an undocumented mother faced recording her child’s school punishment

Reporter: Morgan Rynor Writer: Jack Lowenstein
The mother of a 6-year-old girl spoke to WINK News after she secretly recorded her child’s principal spank her daughter with a wooden paddle at Central Elementary School in Clewiston. Credit: WINK News.

Some who have seen a video of a student being physically punished at a Hendry County school recently questioned why the child’s mother, who was present, did not intervene.

But she did take a very big risk by capturing the horrifying moments on camera.

We looked at the dangers she faced by releasing the hard-to-watch video.

It’s the million-dollar question: Why didn’t a mother, who asked that we not identify her, speak up when her 6-year-old daughter was paddled by Principal Melissa Carter of Central Elementary School?

“If I had done it with my own hand, it would’ve been bad for me,” the mother told WINK News. “I don’t know. I’d be in jail.”

The mother feared speaking up because of her legal status.

“The fact that she needed to record it just so someone would believe her is very unfortunate,” said Indera Demine, an immigration attorney. “And I think that this just draws attention to the many hurdles or things that immigrants face on a daily basis that we don’t talk about and that gets brushed under the table.”

Demine told us it’s a common theme in the undocumented community — to not speak up when they are potential victims of an alleged crime.

“Well, you’re undocumented’ I’m going to call ICE on you,’” Demine made as an example. “Or, ‘I’m going to get you deported,’ and as an individual, you’re not sure what that person can do, so that has been used as a tool so often against the undocumented community, and I think it’s so unfortunate, and this is a clear example. Right?”

“We know that perpetrators of domestic violence or human trafficking will usually leverage that victim’s legal status in order to maintain control of them,” said Linda Oberhaus, the CEO of The Shelter for abused Women & Children in Collier County.

The mother of the 6-year-old girl told us she did not understand the principal when she initially mentioned paddling. Demine said another main reason victims don’t speak up is because they don’t know how to effectively communicate what happened.

Hendry County District Schools Director of Safety Jason Brown said, once the district completes its investigation, an announcement would be made.

Both Demine and Oberhaus say it’s important for undocumented immigrants to know they share the same basic human rights as U.S. citizens.

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