Yesterday the Department of Justice and the Department of Education sent out a letter reminding school districts nationwide of their obligation under federal law to provide equal educational opportunities to all children residing in their districts, regardless of their race, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, or the immigration status of their parents and guardians. The guidance responded to discriminatory enrollment practices, documented in part by the American Civil Liberties Union, that unnecessarily and unlawfully inquire, directly or indirectly, into the immigration status of students and their families and foster the fear that the attempt to enroll in public school may bring students and their families to the attention of the immigration authorities.
The guidance made clear that a school district may not:
• ask about a child’s citizenship or immigration status to establish residency within the district; or
• deny a homeless child, including an undocumented homeless child, enrollment because she or he cannot provide the required documents to establish residency.
The guidance further specified that a school district may not prevent a child from enrolling in school because:
• a child has a foreign birth certificate; or
• a child or parent chooses not to provide the child’s social security number; or
• a child or parent chooses not to provide the child’s race or ethnicity.
This is not a new policy rather the letter was meant to reinforce established policy. Problem is that the directive fails to address how at the Federal level policy and practice is discouraging immigrant parents and their children from participating in education through the use of fear.
On March 31st ICE agents terrorized the parents at the Hope of Detroit Academy by staking out their school. According to the school Principal this had a chilling impact on the school with students not concentrating and parents just not bringing their kids to school. Like with anything ICE does, there seems to be a lack of clarity as to what the policy is versus what the actual practice is. From NPR:
ICE said in a statement that elements of the operation appeared to be inconsistent with its policies. The comment didn’t sit well with Chris Crane, who heads the National ICE Council, the union that represents immigration agents.
“The agency made a statement before they even asked one single officer about anything that took place that day,” he says.
Crane also says agents kept their distance from the school, and never even got out of their vehicles. He accuses critics of fear-mongering, saying, “it’s the statements of some of these political leaders that are really creating the fear in the communities, the fear across the nation now that ICE agents are these terrible people doing terrible things to immigrants, when that’s just not the case.”
The practice and police of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration seems to be double-speak intent on confusing and intimidating. Take for example how the administration is handling the debate around Secure Communities.
Bringing it back full circle to education. The Obama White House has continuously put out there that they are committed to helping young people access higher education, the treatment of immigrant students in higher education tells a different story. The Department of Homeland Security through Janet Napolitano and the White House through Cecilia Munoz have said over and over again that DREAM Act eligible students are not a priority for deportation. Yet it seems like twice a month the DREAMers and their supporters must fight another deportation, like that of Elier Lara.
President Obama and the White House are currently attempting to overtake the #immigration hashtag on twitter in anticipation of a recently announced speech scheduled in El Paso that is supposed to revive – again – the push for immigration reform. I hope I and others are proven wrong, but given how the administration says one things and does another when it comes to the various parts of immigrant communities, I expect more double speak with an eye on the Latino vote and the 2012 elections.