US Gov’t Releases Guidelines for Undocumented Students

The US government has issued updates to schools reminding them to enroll all students regardless of their immigration standing. Writing for The Christian Science Monitor, Stacy Teicher Khadaroo reports that civil right groups say that this explanation must be given because some schools are discouraging immigrant children from enrolling based on their legal status. The original guidelines were published in 2011.

"It is our hope that this update will address some of the misperceptions out there … The message here is clear: let all children who live in your district enroll in your public schools," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement releasing the guidance in partnership with Attorney General Eric Holder.

The letter sent to schools stated that the normal criteria used for that school's district would remain the same (age, students' local residency), but never should a school disallow a child from enrolling based on that child's lack of documentation. The letter informs that driver's licenses, state identification cards, birth certificates, Social Security cards, or any other documentation that would keep that child from gaining access to school enrollment must not be required. Additionally, there must be interpreters available for non-English speaking families. Schools districts are obligated to monitor schools as to their compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

"Such actions and policies not only harm innocent children, they also markedly weaken our nation … by leaving young people unprepared and ill-equipped to succeed and contribute to what is, in many cases, the only home they have ever known," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

Groups concerned about illegal immigration see this situation differently. Roy Beck, President of NumbersUSA. an organization that would like to lower the number of both legal and illegal immigrants, says there have been few schools that have restricted enrollment to immigrant children.

The Butler school district in Morris County, New Jersey agreed in March to drop their policy which required state-issued identity documents, only obtained by having legal status. Julia Preston of The New York Times wrote that this action followed a suit brought against the district by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Schools in Fresno, California, did away with a policy requiring fingerprints or a Social Security card to enter school grounds. Both of these identifying methods can only be obtained by having a legal immigration status.

Alabama, in 2011, passed a law requiring schools to obtain information that would reveal families' immigration status. This caused many students not to be admitted to schools. The statute was blocked, and the state was instructed that, "districts cannot ban or discourage children from enrolling because they do not have Social Security numbers or birth certificates, or because their parents do not have Alabama driver's licenses".

The directives in the letter include enrollment policies for homeless children. Since the homeless routinely do not have the necessary documentation required by school districts, schools must enroll them without these credentials.

The letter was signed by Catherine E. Lhamon, Asst. Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights, Dept. of Education; Philip N. Rosenfelt, Deputy General Counsel, Delegated the Authority to Perform the Functions and Duties of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Education; and Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Education.

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