U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a House committee Tuesday the decision to report illegal immigrant students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is up to schools.
At a hearing of the House Education and the Workforce committee, former illegal immigrant Rep. Adriano Espaillat pressed DeVos to explain her views on immigration enforcement.
“Inside the school,” the New York Democrat asked, “if a principal or a teacher finds out that a certain child is undocumented, or his or her family members are undocumented, do you feel that the principal or teacher is responsible to call [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and to have that family reported?”
“Sir, I think that’s a school decision,” DeVos responded. “That’s a local community decision. And again, I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate, and I urge this body to do its job and address or clarify where there is confusion around this.”
The secretary’s response received a swift response from Democrats, civil rights groups, and pro-amnesty media.
“Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution,” said Lorella Praeli, the ACLU’s director of immigration policy and campaigns, according to the Washington Post. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong”:
Any school that reports a child to @ICEgov would violate the Constitution. SCOTUS has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. As usual, DeVos has no idea what she’s talking about. https://t.co/KvDRI6QPr2
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 22, 2018
Civil rights groups point to the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe, which they say “made clear … that public schools have a constitutional obligation to provide schooling for children, regardless of immigration status,” as the Post reports.
Obama-era Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder, in fact, jointly released a “Dear Colleague guidance” regarding the issue in May 2014.
“Under Federal law, State and local educational agencies (hereinafter ‘districts’) are required to provide all children with equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level,” the Obama administration stated, adding:
Both the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education (Departments) write to remind you of the Federal obligation to provide equal educational opportunities to all children residing within your district and to offer our assistance in ensuring that you comply with the law.
A July 2014 report by Ken Klukowski, legal editor at Breitbart News, noted the 5-4 decision in Plyler was written by “ultra-liberal Justice William Brennan” and that “conservative and moderate justices dissented.”
That decision remains “the only Supreme Court support for birthright citizenship,” he observed. “It was wrongly decided and poorly reasoned and should be overruled.”
Other pro-amnesty groups were quick to condemn DeVos’s comments.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said DeVos shows “astounding ignorance of the law” and “desperately needs competent legal advice.”
“Any public school or school district that denies an education to any undocumented child — whether by refusing to enroll, by limiting access to the programs and benefits provided to other students, or by reporting a child to ICE — has violated the United States Constitution,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the group, according to the Post.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, said the issue is “settled constitutional law.”
“Betsy DeVos should know better, and to suggest otherwise only serves to frighten children,” she said:
What we continue to see from @BetsyDeVosED is a disregard for the laws, diversity and values that are the fabric and strength of our communities. These racist policies have negative consequences for all of us. https://t.co/tS2EubPxVN via @NBCNews
— NEA (@NEAToday) May 24, 2018
For all the fuss from the left, however, DeVos has hardly held a firm line on immigration.
In April 2017, while touring schools in Miami, Florida, DeVos said illegal immigrant students in Florida “should not be concerned” about losing in-state tuition because the Trump administration is “very supportive” of states deciding for themselves on such policy.
“Well, as you well know [immigration] is an issue that’s been widely discussed within the administration and I yesterday referred to [Homeland Security Secretary] Gen. [John F.] Kelly’s comments about the fact that [undocumented] students should not be concerned,” the secretary said. “They should continue to focus on their studies and continue to pursue their educations. The administration is very supportive of states setting their direction and I would say that would be consistent here [for in-state tuition], too.”
As she toured Florida – the state that was once governed by Jeb Bush, her close colleague and an amnesty supporter – DeVos was asked about her relationship with the former governor.
“We have shared many ideas in the past years,” she said. “I served on the board of the organization he started and our paths have crossed many, many times over the years as we have done work in a variety of states. Our views and our heart for every child is very similar.”
Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said, in response to the criticism, that the secretary “has repeatedly said that DACA students have the right to a K-12 education, as ruled on by the Supreme Court.”
“She has tremendous compassion for DACA students and has said repeatedly she hopes that Congress would do its job and give these students the certainty they deserve,” the spokeswoman added, according to the Post.