Administration demands equal education for illegal immigrants

Schools cannot require students or their parents to provide Social Security numbers, birth certificates or other documentation showing citizenship status as a condition of enrollment under formal Obama administration guidance issued Thursday.

The directive to all public school districts, meant to ensure equal access to education for the nation’s illegal immigrants, comes amid reports that some children have wrongfully been denied enrollment.

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Attorney General Eric Holder said such policies “have a chilling effect on student enrollment, raising barriers for undocumented children and children from immigrant families who seek to receive the public education to which they are entitled.”

“Public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin,” Holder said. “We will vigilantly enforce the law to ensure the schoolhouse door remains open to all.”

The new guidance from the departments of Justice and Education is an update of similar guidelines issued three years ago. The mandate to provide equal education to all children stems from the Supreme Court’s 1982 Plyler vs. Doe ruling, which prohibited a school district from charging illegal immigrants extra tuition fees.

Despite the law and 2011 guidance, the administration has received at least 17 complaints alleging wrongful enrollment practices at schools around the country, including districts in Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Colorado and Washington, D.C.

“That behavior is unacceptable, and it must change,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

The new guidance makes clear that schools may request certain documentation showing the age and address of children in order to determine whether they are eligible to enroll.

But they may not ask about a child or family’s citizenship status, or deny enrollment on grounds that a student is an illegal immigrant. The most recent Department of Homeland Security figures estimate there are roughly 1.1 million children living in the United States illegally.

A parent’s driver’s license may be among the documents allowed to prove a student lives within a school district, but schools cannot require it. Nor can they turn away a student in cases in which a family has provided no Social Security number, according to the guidance.

“Such actions and policies not only harm innocent children, they also markedly weaken our nation – as the Court recognized in Plyler – by leaving young people unprepared and ill-equipped to succeed and contribute to what is, in many cases, the only home they have ever known,” Holder said.