Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Enrolling Immigrant Students: The Difference Between Rights and Reality

In 1982 in Plyer v. Doe, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute that prohibited school districts from enrolling undocumented immigrant students.  The Court held that the statute was discriminatory and unconstitutionally irrational.  States have enacted statutes similarly aimed at discouraging immigrant students from enrolling on a few occassions since then.  None, however, have gone into practical effect, as all have been deemed unconstitutional in short order.  In some instances, legislators allowed that they knew the legislation was unconstitutional, but wanted the Court to revisit the rationale of Plyer v. Doe.  The Court, of course, has not done so.

Statutes and policies of this sort remain unconstitutional and fervor for them has died down in the past few years. This year, however, has brought a new, but related problem, particularly in those localities that have seen an influx of unaccompanied minors escaping violence, kidnapping threats, and the like in their home countries.  Some school districts say they are overwhelmed by the influx of students, and lacking in the space and resources necessary to serve them.  Those excuses, however, would earn the districts no quarter in refusals to enroll the students.  Instead, the districts admit the students are eligible to enroll, but have excluded them based on inadequate paperwork and documentation.  Yesterday's New York Times tells the story of students in Long Island waiting months to be enrolled in the schools, and points out that the problem is not unique to Long Island:

activists say the obstacles to enrollment on Long Island reflect a wariness toward new arrivals that prevails in schools across the country. The federal Education Department has received at least 17 complaints nationwide since 2011 about districts’ denying the rights of immigrant children, while the Justice Department has evaluated enrollment procedures for 200 districts in Georgia alone. The Southern Poverty Law Center and a New Orleans advocacy group last week sent letters to 55 schools in New Orleans that the groups say were discouraging immigrant children by requesting Social Security numbers or a parent’s state identification, which are not required by federal law.

This story marks the sad difference between rights and reality in education.  Fortunately, the issue seems to be getting sufficient attention from federal authorities that the gap between rights and reality may begin to close.

English Language Learners, Federal policy | Permalink


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