Feds Reinforce School Rules for Accepting Undocumented Immigrants

May 9, 2014

The Obama administration delivered an unequivocally clear message — again — on Thursday: All children have a right to enroll in public schools regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

Three years after clarifying to schools that they cannot turn away children, the Education and Justice Departments issued another set of guidance documents that provide in painstaking detail what schools can and cannot ask for when families want to enroll their children. The agencies also provided examples of acceptable enrollment policies.

For example, schools can violate federal law by requiring Social Security numbers or birth certificates when a student wants to enroll. Schools can instead ask for proof of residency in a school district, which a family can do with an electric bill or copy of a lease.

In a Dear Colleague letter, the agencies say they’ve recently “become aware of student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status.”

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that there are 1.1 million undocumented children under age 18 living in the U.S.

On a call with reporters, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the department’s Office for Civil Rights has received 17 complaints related to school enrollment policies since its 2011 guidance on the issue. The complaints came from all over the country, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said: Colorado, D.C., Michigan, Ohio, Louisiana, New Mexico and North Carolina, among others.

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