Equity & Diversity

Top Democrats Tell DeVos: Immigrant Student Rights Must Be Protected

By Corey Mitchell — April 03, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Congressional Democrats want the Trump administration to stress that—despite drastic changes in federal immigration enforcement policy—the nation’s public K-12 schools are still obligated to educate undocumented children.

Seeking to ensure that the administration intends to honors its “sensitive locations” memorandum, which broadly prohibits the arrest of undocumented students and parents on school grounds schools and other “sensitive locations,” the lawmakers—including U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the U.S. House Education Committee—wrote a letter to key appointees of President Donald Trump, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The “sensitive locations” policy has been on the books since 2011.

Scott and three other Democratic U.S. House members cautioned that, without a stern reminder to schools, the educational rights of undocumented students could be trampled upon as the new administrations expands its immigration enforcement actions.

“In this environment of trepidation, it is important that we do all we can to minimize the impact these policies have on public school attendance and student learning,” the letter read, in part.

The Supreme Court ruled 25 years ago in Plyler v. Doe that U.S. public schools must serve all children, regardless of their immigration status.

Despite the ruling, school leaders have reported a spike in fear among immigrant families since Trump’s election in November, and in some cases even before Election Day. To address the concerns, dozens of districts nationwide have passed resolutions seeking to reassure families that students are safe at school.

The Democratic lawmakers addressed the letter to DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.

“Unfortunately, President Trump’s immigration enforcement policies, coupled with recent press reports of immigration enforcements actions near schools, are creating justified concerns about the safety of schools for children and their parents,” the letter reads.

“To assuage increasing apprehensions, we request that the Department of Homeland Security issue a statement making clear that, in spite of other changes in enforcement policy, the sensitive locations policy remains in full effect, at schools and other localities. Fear of immigration enforcement actions cannot be allowed to create a hostile learning environment for our children.”

Last month, an alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School in suburban Maryland stoked the national debate on immigration. The two suspects in the case, both undocumented immigrant male students from Central America, came to the United States on their own within the last year to join relatives already living in the country.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited the incident as the latest proof that an immigration enforcement crackdown is necessary. DeVos also offer comment on the alleged rape, ahead of a short visit to another school in Montgomery County. Md., though she made no mention of the immigration status of the suspects or the legal duty of schools to enroll all students.

Here’s a look at the letter from the Democratic lawmakers.

Related Stories

High School Rape Case Becomes Flashpoint in Immigration Debate

How Much Can Schools Protect Undocumented Students?

If Immigration Agents Come Knocking, Schools Must Follow These Steps

AFT President Urges Big-City Mayors to Shield Immigrant Students, Families

As Trump Weighs Fate of Immigrant Students, Schools Ponder Their Roles

Educators to Trump: ELL, Immigrant Students Need Safe, Well-Funded Schools

Election’s Intolerant Tone Stokes Fears for Latino Students

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