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¡No Se Deje!
Although it is clearly against Federal law for school officials and employees to inquire into the immigration status of its students or their parents, hundreds of school districts have been doing so. In New York alone, 139 school districts (20%) were found to unlawfully require students to produce immigration documents as a condition of enrolling in school. And several states and local governments are considering passing similar laws.
Immigration Reform and civil liberties organizations filed complaints and strongly urged the Obama Administration to take immediate action to enforce Federal law. As a result, top Federal officials issued a strongly worded memorandum to the nation’s school districts reminding them that it is against the law for education authorities to request immigration status information from students. The letter states “we have become aware of student enrollment practices that may…discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion of students based on their or their parents’…actual or perceived immigration status. THESE PRACTICES CONTRAVENE FEDERAL LAW.”
The memorandum was signed by Thomas Perez, Former Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights of the Education Department. The legal memorandum explained the law as stated by the United States Supreme Court in 1982 in the case of Plyer vs. Doe. In that case the Court said that a Texas law denying a free public education to “illegal aliens” violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. That clause prohibits discrimination on the basis of immigration status because such discrimination does not further a substantial state interest.
The Court said “the Texas law was directed against children and imposed its discriminatory burden on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children can have little control”. The court was referring to the fact that they were brought illegally into the country as children by their parents. This case has been determined to only apply to elementary and high school students. The Court said “denying children a proper education would likely contribute to the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime.”
According to attorney John W. Carrera representing the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, school employees are prohibited from cooperating with Immigration Officials in any way that may jeopardize immigrant students’ rights under the Plyer case. Xochitl Hinojosa of the U. S. Justice department said that this is the first time that her department has provided guidance to school districts about the 1982 Plyer case requirements. It is clear that the Obama Administration has decided to stop any attempts by schools to violate the rights of all students to be free from immigration status inquiries. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.