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New York Says Says K-12 Schools Cannot Ask for Immigration Status of Students

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CREDIT: Flickr / admiretime

New York's Department of Education issued a memo today urging schools not to ask students questions related to their immigration status. 

The memo is a slap on the wrist to the 139 New York school districts that have been collecting this kind of information, according to a report that the New York Civil Liberties Union published earlier this summer. 

According to the memo, federal law doesn't require schools to gather social security numbers for any reason, and it doesn't bar students from attending school based on immigration status.  What federal law does say is that students have to fulfill two simple requirements: Students must physically reside in the school district, and students must demonstrate intent to stay in the school district.  

In 1975, Texas tried to prohibit undocumented children from attending its public schools. A subsequent class action suit, Plyler v. Doe, led to the 1982 Supreme Court ruling that guarantees the right to a public school education for all school-age children regardless of immigration status. 

But that hasn't stopped California schools from increasing their personnel devoted to monitoring residency status.  

According to a story in the Los Angeles daily newspaper La Opinión:

The Mountain Empire School District, just east of San Diego, will also be hiring staff exclusively for this purpose. 

The practice of checking student documents to verify where they live, however, has created divisions within the state educational system. Some school districts bordering Mexico have said they will not be allocating additional resources for this type of activity.

"Our mission is to educate, not to become immigration agents," says Lillian Leopold, spokesperson for the Sweetwater Unified School District, the largest district in California, with more than 43,000 enrolled students.

While determining residency in the district can be carried out in ways that don't reveal the student's immigration status, the presence of these extra personnel and all the added scrutiny will most likely give undocumented parents pause about sending their kids back to school.

With gubernatorial candidates in 20 states talking up hard-line immigration policies that would allow law enforcement officials to demand anyone's papers for any reason, this could become a nationwide trend. One Iowa candidate has even called for Plyler vs. Doe to be overturned altogether.

But not all conservatives see it that way: Erstwhile immigration hard-liner Mike Huckabee softened on allowing undocumented kids access to higher education, and Lou Dobbs, who made immigrant-bashing so much part of his CNN program that it was eventually canceled, came out against repealing the 14th amendment—a major constitutional pillar of Plyler v. Doe.

Besides, keeping kids out of schools is hardly going to make the country a safer, more prosperous place.  

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