Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Mary Ann Zehr writes for Education Week:
Nearly two months after Arizona enacted a controversial law requiring police officers to ask about the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants involved in a “lawful stop, detention, or arrest,” educators, police agencies, and advocates are beginning to sort out what the new requirements mean for the police officers who work in public schools.
Meanwhile, at least one school district with a large Latino population saw a drop in enrollment right after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed the measure into law on April 23. It is scheduled to go into effect July 28.
“It seems to be clear that some of our families are leaving Arizona to move to other states where they feel they can work and where they feel more welcome,” said Jeff Smith, the superintendent of Balsz Elementary School District #31, in Phoenix. He said his 2,700-student district has lost about 100 students since the legislation was signed, compared with only seven students over a similar time span a year ago.
In the view of some observers, the law presents a potential conflict for school resource officers, who are employed by local police departments in Arizona, rather than school districts. The chance for conflict looms in part because, while police agencies may be compelled to follow the new immigration law, schools are obligated to comply with Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says students’ right to a free K-12 public education did not depend on their immigration status. The ruling says schools should avoid any attempts to determine the immigration status of a student because it might have a “chilling” effect on his or her right to an education.
But Gov. Brewer doesn’t believe the law will have an effect on the precedent set by Plyler v. Doe. “It only arises when there’s a lawful stop, detention, or arrest for some other crime by law enforcement,” a spokeswoman for the governor wrote in an e-mail. “If a student is arrested for a crime, SB [Senate Bill] 1070 will require the student’s immigration status to be checked (there’s no exception for minors), however; that does not conflict with Plyler.”
Thomas A. Saenz, the president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the Arizona law signals that, “for the first time, there would be immigration enforcement in schools, which has always been against federal policy.”
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund joined other civil rights groups June 4 in filing a motion asking a federal court to block the law’s implementation. Their main claim is that it violates a clause in the U.S. Constitution leaving immigration regulation exclusively to the federal government, Mr. Saenz said.
He said a provision in the new state law permitting anyone to sue a police officer for not enforcing it also pushes for broad application of the law. Mr. Saenz said he can see how the law could be interpreted to require police officers to ask about immigration status when students are involved in a wide range of violations, if the school resource officers are deemed to be “law-enforcement officials” while in schools.
Likewise, Chris Thomas, the general counsel for the Arizona School Boards Association, believes that SB 1070, could bring changes for undocumented students attending school. “If police are investigating a crime, not just a violation of school rules, there may be an issue where the police are compelled to ask about immigration status,” he said. Click here for the rest of the column.