Dozens of civil rights organizations are asking U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to clarify her recent contention that schools can decide whether or not to report undocumented students to immigration authorities.
Those comments came during a wide-ranging House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing last week. Rep. Adriano D. Espaillat Cabral, D-N.Y., asked if teachers and principals should call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report undocumented students.
The secretary’s answer: “That’s a school decision,” DeVos said. “It’s a local community decision. I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate. I urge this body and do its job and address and clarify where this confusion around this.”
Espaillat repeated the question and emphasized that immigration law is federal law, but DeVos did not change her stance. He did not say under what circumstances he envisioned educators and schools learning about a student or family’s immigration status.
That alarmed advocates, who argued it would be against the law for educators to report their students to ICE. And Tuesday, 180 civil rights organizations, including the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, sent a letter to DeVos asking her to clarify her comments. They argued that DeVos’ comments fly in the face of Plyler vs. Doe, a 1982 Supreme Court decision affirming undocumented immigrants’ right to public education. Here’s a snippet from the letter:
These comments and their misrepresentation of the law have caused fear and confusion for children, families, and educators, all of whom are owed accurate information about their rights and the law. Schools may not deny access to a basic public education to any child residing in the state, regardless of the child's, parents', or guardians' immigration status. To comply with the U.S. Constitution, federal civil rights laws, as well as the mandates of the Supreme Court, schools must ensure that they do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and that students are not barred from enrolling in public schools at the elementary and secondary level on the basis of their own citizenship or immigration status or that of their parents or guardians.This is the law; it is not optional.
DeVos said she’s aware of the law. She refererred to Plyler vs. Doe earlier in the hearing in explaining why the federal government funds education for undocumented children. She said her comments at the hearing were misconstrued.
“Our nation has both a legal and moral obligation to educate every child. This is well-established in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plyler v. Doe and has been my consistent position since day one. Schools are not, and should never become, immigration enforcement zones,” said DeVos in a statement sent to Education Week Wednesday.
“Every child should feel safe going to school. It is unfortunate that those who seek to polarize and divide have intentionally tried to misrepresent my position on this issue to cause unnecessary fear for students and families.”
A 2014 fact sheet put out by the Education and Justice Departments states that schools “may not ask about your or your child’s citizenship or immigration status to establish residency within the district.” They also can’t require parents to show driver’s licenses or state-issued identification. Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for DeVos, said last week she has no plans to rescind that guidance. Much more from my colleague Andrew Ujifusa here.
Photo: A giant television screen projects an image of the proceedings as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing on May 22 in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)