As summer vacation ticks away and back to school preparation looms, one student group is getting some special attention: illegal immigrant children. Some states are imposing requirements of dubious legality on immigrant families.
The American Civil Liberties Union is offering back to school information to illegal immigrants in Arizona after determining that half of the 151 school districts whose policies it examined demanded documentation in excess of legal requirements. The ACLU’s goal is to get out the word that students can’t be denied the right to attend public school based on immigration status. In short, even children who are not residing in Arizona legally have right to a public education if they are in fact living there. While families cannot be required to prove their children are legally in the United States, they can be required to demonstrate actual residency in the school district in which they enroll their children.
Arizona isn’t the only state where illegal immigration is an issue as back to school time approaches. Alabama passed a law in June requiring public school administrators to verify students’ citizenship and immigration status beginning Sept. 1. The law doesn’t ban the students from attending public schools- which would be unconstitutional under prior U.S. Supreme Court precedent- but does mandate collecting the information and compiling data to document the cost to Alabama of educating children of illegal immigrants. Multiple court challenges are already underway.
Depts. Of Education and Justice Issued Warning
In response to earlier reports of school systems creating barriers for immigrant children to enroll, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice co-authored a reminder to the nation’s school systems in May, advising them of their legal obligation to educate immigrant children regardless of their citizenship or lawful U.S. residency or that of their parents. That advisory stated that inquiring into student or parent immigration or citizenship status is not relevant to establishing residency within a school district.
Cost of Educating Illegal Immigrant Children
An estimated 1.1 million illegal immigrant children receive a free education in American public schools, according to the Urban Institute. The Federation for American Immigration Reform says says that nationwide, states spend $12 billion per year providing K-12 education for illegal immigrants. When children who are American citizens born to illegal alien parents are included, the figure tops $28 million.