TUKWILA, Wash. -- Washington School Superintendent Randy Dorn, who was caught on camera asking a loaded question about a student's immigration status, is now trying to explain.
The strange exchange happened Thursday during a school tour in Tukwila.
Dorn says he was trying to gauge the student's opportunities based on what he knows about migrant families. The teenage student says he was stunned when asked if he was a citizen and disappointed it was even a question.
"It's definitely not an appropriate question, right?" said student Julian Medina-Schroeder.
The moment he heard it, the words struck Medina-Schroeder as out of place for such a high ranking school official.
"What worries me the most is the ideal, the mentality that represents," he said.
Dorn was at Medina-Schroeder's school Thursday when a casual bantering session took hold and Dorn leaned in to ask a question.
"And then he went like, asked me under his breath, 'Are you legal or not?' he went like that," Medina-Schroeder said.
A KOMO News photographer was on the spot recording the conversation, which began when Medina-Schroeder volunteered that he had gone to school in Mexico.
"Now I'll ask you under my breath, are you legal or illegal?" Dorn is heard asking the student.
Medina-Schroeder answers, "I'm legal, I'm half-American."
"Oh, Okay. Okay," Dorn says. "I always wonder about that. I have kids that come in from Brewster, so two of the kids, they were born in the US. Their mom and dad were migrants, mom and dad kept going across the border."
Medina-Schroeder says he tried to make light of the conversation, but the remark stuck with him.
"It's not necessarily that he asked it, it's just that it represents that mentality, the racism, the hate, all that kind of stuff -- xenophobia and all that," he said.
Reached by phone on Thursday, Dorn said many migrant families don't share the same opportunities, and the difference is often in where they were born. He said citizens have better access to college loans and he was just trying to gauge the teenager's chances.
"It's kind of worrying that it came from a person that has that position," Medina-Schroeder said.