US issues warning about school immigration bias

President_George_W._Bush_and_Barack_Obama_meet_in_Oval_OfficeThe Obama administration said yesterday that it had heard troubling reports about school districts putting up barriers to prevent children who are undocumented immigrants to the United States from enrolling in schools.  The Education Department and the Justice Department have issued new guidance reminding schools that they are legally obliged to enroll all students regardless of their legal status.

The guidance says that schools need to be flexible when it comes to making a decision about the kind of documents they accept to prove the age or residency of a student, and that they should not ask about immigration status or need documents such a driver’s license if this would stop a student from enrolling due to the immigration status of their parents.

Since 2011 the Education Department has received 17 complaints from states including North Carolina, Louisiana, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Colorado, Ohio and Michigan.  According to the education secretary, Arne Duncan, there have been some instances of school leaders inappropriately requesting information such as the US visa status of a child or their date of entry into the US.

Officials from the Justice Department say that they too have taken action, sometimes in conjunction with the Education Department and sometimes separately, and have entered into settlement agreement with some school districts in states such as Florida, Virginia and Georgia.  “It’s a tribute to educators around the country that they recognize how important it is for kids to be able to attend school,” says the Justice Department acting assistant attorney general for human rights, Jocelyn Samuels.