On Thursday, President Barack Obama’s administration issued new guidance to schools, emphasizing that they cannot discourage illegal immigrant students from enrolling by requiring proof of legal status.
As Politico reported, the Obama administration noted that schools “can violate federal law by requiring Social Security numbers or birth certificates when a student wants to enroll,” but they can be compliant if they “instead ask for proof of residency in a school district, which a family can do with an electric bill or copy of a lease.”
In a “Dear Colleague Letter,” the Obama administration stated that under federal law, school districts “are required to provide all children with equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level.” The letter added that they had “become aware of student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status.”
The Obama administration had sued schools in Alabama that had required parents to verify the legal status of their children before enrolling. After a settlement, parents were no longer required to verify the immigration status of their children.
Saying such policies violate federal law, the administration further emphasized that a school district may “not bar a student from enrolling in its schools because he or she lacks a birth certificate or has records that indicate a foreign place of birth, such as a foreign birth certificate.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that the “Justice Department will do everything it can to make sure schools meet this obligation. We will vigilantly enforce the law to ensure the schoolhouse door remains open to all.”
The Obama administration also referenced Plyler v. Doe, the 1982 Supreme Court decision that prohibited schools in Texas from denying education funds to illegal immigrant children.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he wanted to ensure that “every school leader understands the legal requirements under the Constitution and federal laws,” and the Obama administration’s message was clear, as well: “Let all children who live in your district enroll in your public schools.”