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The Feds Had To Remind Schools That Undocumented Students Have A Right To An Education Too

Denying "innocent children" access to a public education, the court explained, "imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status."

Posted on May 8, 2014, at 1:31 p.m. ET

A letter by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education reminded schools of a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that said students have a right to an education, regardless of immigration status.

AP Photo

The departments said they have been made 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 schools were reminded that these practices "contravene Federal law," and that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

Gary Cameron / Reuters

The 1982 Plyler v. Doe case said that a state may not deny access to a basic public education to any child residing in the state, whether present in the United States legally or otherwise.

Sandy Huffaker / Reuters

"Denying 'innocent children' access to a public education, the Court explained, 'imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status,'" the letter read.

"By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation."

"We want to be sure every school leader understands the legal requirements under the Constitution and federal laws, and it is our hope that this update will address some of the misperceptions out there," Secretarary of Education Arne Duncan said.

Larry Downing / Reuters

"The message here is clear: let all children who live in your district enroll in your public schools."

Immigrant's and civil rights organizations applauded the reminders by the DOJ and DOE.


“Today's updated guidance reaffirms the longstanding principle, established by the Supreme Court over 30 years ago, that all children living in our country have a right to equal access to public education," Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel, said.

The National Immigration Law Center called a quality education, "the ultimate anti-poverty program" and said the guidance must be followed.

“This guidance will be effective only if it is known by all school administrators and actually utilized," the NILC said in a statement.

"The Departments of Education and Justice must engage in all necessary outreach to prevent school districts from continuing troubling practices of adopting policies that serve only to close schoolhouse doors to children of immigrants."