Equity & Diversity

Civil Rights Group Warns States: Don’t Bar Immigrant Students From Schools

By Corey Mitchell — October 31, 2017 2 min read
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A Washington-based civil rights group has issued a stern reminder to attorneys general in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that all students, regardless of their immigration status, can enroll in K-12 public schools.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent the letters as part of an initiative, “Let Us Learn: Schools for Every Child,” that aims to protect the rights of students, regardless of their immigration status or the status of their parents or guardians.

The letters urge the attorneys general to enforce their “responsibilities under the law and provide clear, written guidance to the educators of their states on their constitutional obligations” amid the Trump administration’s ramped-up immigration enforcement.

Federal law established through the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe makes clear that schools and districts cannot adopt enrollment policies that deny or discourage children from enrolling because of immigration status.

That means that a school district cannot: refuse to enroll a student enrollment because he or she does not have a birth certificate; bar a student because of a foreign place of birth and should accept foreign birth certificates when verifying age; or require a driver’s license or state-issued identification from a parent.

As part of the initiative, the Lawyers’ Committee found that the Plyler ruling hasn’t stopped some districts from trying discourage enrollment in recent years, especially as unaccompanied minors, many of them fleeing poverty and violence in Central American countries, surged into communities across the country. The letters addressed to the attorneys general identified 30 school districts around the country whose policies appear to be out of compliance with the law.

In 2015, more than 4.7 million foreign-born students were enrolled in U.S. schools, about 6 percent of the American school population, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Another 20 million are children of foreign-born parents.

The Lawyers’ Committee compiled a list of resources on school enrollment to ensure that those parents, students, and teachers know their rights under the law and created online forms for parents and educators to ask questions about school enrollment and anonymously report school districts whose policies appear out of compliance with the law.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.