Due to a Supreme Court ruling in 1982, public schools cannot deny illegal immigrants the right to study in public schools, kindergarten to 12th grade. Eric H. Holder Jr., Attorney General, and Arne Duncan, Education Secretary, along with The Justice and Education Departments have recently reissued a public announcement, and provided simplified procedures regarding illegal immigrant enrollment. Nationally, warnings have been given to the public education districts to be cautious about denying illegal immigrants enrollment into the public school system. The recent announcement includes proper documentation that the schools may require in order for students to enroll, and reminds them that rejecting a student due to lack of immigration papers may actually breach federal law.
The 1982 ruling also states that a student cannot be denied due to their parent’s immigration
status either. Schools are permitted to request proof of residency, which includes phone bills, utility bills or leases, but not Green Cards. They cannot ask for proof of legal immigration status or state-issued identity documents, including driver’s licenses. They may not request original birth certificates to prove age or social security numbers, and are forbidden to deny foreign birth certificates.
This recent announcement is a response to at least 17 complaints over the past three years, which led to legal action. It has been recognized that schools were requiring students and parents to provide social security numbers, visas, and even driver’s licenses, all of which are documents that illegal immigrants are not able to obtain, which subsequently allowed the school to reject the child’s enrollment.
Federal officials have already looked into over 200 U.S. school districts in order to determine whether state enrollment practices are in violation of federal law. It is important to note that a state cannot overrule the federal law, which allows anyone to enroll in public schools. This is a fact that has been tried and proven in the state of Alabama, which was forced to issue guidelines to every school district within the state, clearly providing the limitations on their requirements and regulations for enrollment. Slowly but surely, each state is modifying any policies that restrict enrollment to illegal immigrants.
Consequently according to U.S. federal law, a student is a student, regardless of the child or parent’s legal status, and they may enroll in the public school system. Some Americans question whether the illegal immigrants should have the right to be educated if they are not paying taxes, and others directly state that only taxpayers should reap the benefits of the education system. However Mr. Duncan believes that the common goal should be to “educate, not to intimidate,” and in the end, federal law is federal law.