U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said it’s up to local schools whether they report undocumented students to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She’s wrong, again.

More than 30 years ago, the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe made clear that every child in America has a right to public education, regardless of immigration status. Any school that takes actions that dissuade or deny a student’s right to an education based on immigration status violates the Constitution.

In a watershed decision, the Court recognized that education was crucial to preventing a permanent underclass of undocumented immigrants and ensuring that all persons received equal treatment under law. Citing Brown v. Board of Education, the Court recognized that “denying these children a basic education” would, “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.”

Secretary DeVos’ comments are an example of the Trump administration’s relentless crusade against immigrants. We must resist the Trump administration’s attempts to normalize the mistreatment of immigrants. If you do witness ICE or CBP within your school: 

  • Direct ICE/CBP agents to the Superintendent.
  • The Superintendent should request to see written legal authorization and verify the identity of the agent(s).
  • If agents do not supply a judicial warrant signed by a judge, request legal review before permitting agents further into the school. Only a judicial warrant, not an administrative warrant, will allow ICE agents to enter locations in which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • The Superintendent should advise agents of the school’s Plyler obligations, refer agents to the ICE/CBP sensitive locations memos, and request that officers not conduct the enforcement action at school/school activities.
  • Consistent with the school’s Plyler obligations, school officials must not affirmatively aid in removing a student from school based upon their immigration status.
  • If agents detain a student, the school should promptly notify the student’s parent or guardian.
  • As soon as possible, notify the ACLU of Arizona at https://action.aclu.org/secure/az-complaint-form. You can also lodge a complaint with ICE or CBP through their websites.

Schools can also take steps to safeguard the right of equal access to education for immigrant students and all students. For instance, clearly communicating with families that all students are welcome in public schools, including through the adoption of a resolution by the school board, can go a long way in assuaging community fears and strengthening the school community.

All children, regardless of status, have equal access to education. Department of Education guidance indicates that schools may not require students to provide proof of immigration status and should not ask students for information such as social security numbers or place of birth that may indicate a students immigration status. 

Secretary DeVos said that the question of whether to report undocumented students to ICE is a “school decision.” It's not. Plyer v. Doe made clear that schools cannot deter undocumented children from enrolling. It is distressing that the U.S. Secretary of Education would say differently.