Despite federal law prohibiting discrimination against children based on their immigration status, it is still extremely difficult for undocumented children to access education in the United States. These young ones not only face trouble registering for schools, they are deprived of basic educational services that are well within their legal rights.
A new report, released jointly by Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project and the Women’s Refugee Commission, claims school districts in at least four states — Florida, New York, South Carolina and Texas — either delay the enrollment process of immigrant children over the lack of their parents’ residency documents or straight-out reject them.
For instance, a 16-year-old from Honduras only identified as Juan, tried to enroll at a Texas school where he was initially rejected because the principal thought he would not be able to pass the state standardized testing. Even when he got in, he had to drop out shortly after because the school did not provide him with any help in navigating his courses in English.
In other cases, children who managed to enroll in public schools were placed in alternative programs meant for students who displayed violent behavior and or had gang affiliations.
Education is a basic right for all children in the country. As far as the parents’ residency paperwork is concerned, U.S. laws allow them a 30-day grace period to submit the required documentation while their children attend school.
“All children in the United States are entitled to equal access to a public elementary and secondary education, regardless of their or their parents' actual or perceived national origin, citizenship or immigration status,” the U.S. Department of Education states on its website. “This includes recently arrived unaccompanied children, who are in immigration proceedings while residing in local communities with a parent, family member or other appropriate adult sponsor.”
By failing to adhere to these laws, the schools are breaking the law, yet there are no repercussions so far.
The study, titled “Ensuring Every Undocumented Student Succeeds: A Report on Access to Public Education for Undocumented Children,” also draws connection to the Obama administration’s efforts to find and deport Central American children and families who arrived during the 2014 surge of illegal crossings.
The researchers claim undocumented families are hesitant to send their kids to school for fears of deportation, concerned that their information could be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
There are roughly 775,000 undocumented children living in the country, according to statistics. However, with the rise of gang-related violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the border into the U.S. and been placed in communities after being apprehended at the border.
The researchers also found that public school districts are only entitled to request paperwork to establish students' residency, which means it’s not permissible for them to ask for immigration documents.
Along with undocumented children, some 1.6 million kids living in mixed families — where some members have citizenship while others don’t — might also face the same obstacles, the study concluded.