Illegal Immigrants in CT Avoid Free School Lunch Programs Fearing Deportation

school lunch - Susan WalchAP
Susan Walch/AP

Illegal immigrant parents in Connecticut are afraid of signing up their children for free or reduced-price school lunches over fears they could be deported.

Parents have been calling the Danbury School District offices to ask if federal immigration officials can access the forms they fill out to receive taxpayer-subsidized free or reduced-price school lunches, the News-Times reports.

District employees say they have received “hundreds” of calls from parents scared that their immigration status will be exposed because their children participated in lunch programs.

Anne Mead, the director of the school district’s Family & Community Engagement Center, said she gets five calls a day from anxious parents and tells them that their children can safely sign up for the program without the school giving away identifiable information to immigration authorities.

Marjorie Vargas-Fernandes, another one of the district’s employees, said she has “spent hours” telling illegal immigrant parents they can sign up for free and reduced-price lunches without fear of repercussions.

She says in many cases, the students are U.S. citizens while their parents are not.

Unlike the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, where at least one person in the household has to be a U.S. citizen to participate, the National School Lunch Program does not have those requirements. Students are eligible for the program regardless of their immigration status.

William Glass, Danbury’s deputy superintendent of schools, encouraged families to sign up for the program regardless of immigration status because the school district lost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” that the district normally spends on school supplies when the school experienced immigration-status anxiety about a decade ago.

The government relies on those forms to determine how much funding a district should receive, and those funding streams for the district “vanished,” Glass said.

The Heritage Foundation pointed out that taxpayers are the ones footing the bill for free or reduced-price lunches and for educating illegal immigrants.

“Currently, the U.S. spends approximately $12,000 per year to educate each child in public school,” the News-Times quotes the Heritage Foundation as saying. “And the influx of children who are in the country illegally further increases those costs.”

Illegal immigrants are also removing their tattoos, foregoing doctor’s visits, and canceling their food stamps over fears that they could be discovered by immigration officials.