Articles tagged with immigration

Thirty years after Plyler, immigrant students still face obstacles

If you want to see how the nation’s views on undocumented immigrants have hardened in recent years, you don’t have to read the majority opinion in Plyler vs. Doe, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that said public schools must educate all children regardless of their immigration status.

 Just read the dissent.

 “Were it our business to set the Nation’s social policy,” dissenting Chief Justice Warren Burger began, “I would agree without hesitation that it is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children — including illegal aliens — of an elementary education.” 

Burger goes on to say, however, that whatever “folly” may have existed by the State of Texas’ decision to refuse to educate undocumented children, that decision was not unconstitutional. Such sentiments are a far cry from the prevailing view in the 2011 Alabama House Bill 56, part of which requires school districts to report the number of undocumented children in their schools, said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Saenz was one of six speakers at a Washington forum Monday titled Plyler v. Doe at 30 years: Keeping Public Schools Open to All of America’s Children. He said he wants people to read both Plyler’s majority opinion and the dissent to get a sense of the values expressed at the time. Also speaking at the event, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, was Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, the U.S. Justice Department’s chief civil rights enforcement officer, who was a keynote speaker the Council of School Attorneys (COSA) School Law Seminar in Boston.

Before Plyler could take effect, the justice department, joined by civil rights and religious groups, succeeded in securing a temporary court injunction on the part of the law that concerns school reports on students’ immigration status. But by then, Perez said, the damage had been done. Hispanic students were missing school and dropping out.

“We must never lose sight of the fact that this is about real people with real dreams,” Perez said.

That fact was underscored by William Lawrence, principal of Foley Elementary School in Foley, Ala. Soon after word of the new law reached Hispanic families, there was tremendous fear in the community that they would be targeted.

“The scene at the school was chaos,” Lawrence said. “There was crying and wailing” both from the Latino students and their non-Latino friends. Within weeks, 64 students would be withdrawn.

Ironically, 96 percent of the Hispanic students at Foley Elementary were born in the United States, Lawrence said. 

“It became clear to me that these children — American-born, U.S. citizens — were facing the brunt of the law,” said Lawrence, “a lifelong conservative Republican” who was nonetheless distraught over the measure that Alabama’s Republican majority pushed through the state legislature. 

If Lawrence’s political affiliation was ironic, there was irony in the actions of the Obama administration as well. Laura W. Murphy, the event’s moderator and director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, praised Perez and Russlynn Ali, the U.S. Department of Education assistant secretary for civil rights, for their work on behalf of immigrants’ rights. But she said that if an official from the Department of Homeland Security had addressed the group, the reception would have been much different.

Last October, the Obama administration reported nearly 397,000 people were deported over the past 12 months, the third straight year of record deportations. Although the administration has initiated reviews of more than 410,000 deportation cases over the past seven months, fewer than 2 percent have been closed, leaving immigrant rights groups frustrated, according to the New York Times.

Perez’s office and the Department of Education have taken a much different course, investigating cases in states such as Indiana, North Carolina, and Alabama, where immigrant students have encountered roadblocks to school registration. In most instances, Perez said, school districts have been helpful.

“When we work with school districts, we explain the dos and don’ts,” Perez said. “They’ve been very receptive, because teachers want to work with kids.”

Lawrence Hardy|June 12th, 2012|Categories: School Law, Diversity, Immigrants, Assessment, American School Board Journal, School Board News, Council of School Attorneys|Tags: , , , |

NSBA challenges Alabama immigration law

Alabama’s draconian immigration law is using “fear and intimidation to drive undocumented immigrants and their children” from the state, the National School Boards Association, the National Education Association, and the Alabama Education Association argued in an amicus brief filed in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This case is about the power of fear,” the three education groups say in the opening line of their brief in Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama v. Bentley.

The brief is one of three filed by NSBA just before Thanksgiving. The other amicus briefs were filed in two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court: Filarsky v. Delia, which concerns the qualified immunity status of a private attorney retained by the government to conduct an internal affairs investigation, and Payne v. Peninsula School District, which concerns whether parents of students with disabilities can file suit before going through a hearing process set up by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The Alabama law, which, among other things, requires school districts to report on the immigration status of new students, has received national publicity over charges that it is being used to harass undocumented immigrants and drive them from the state.  In early October, after federal judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn upheld most of the law’s provisions, more than 2,000 Hispanic children were absent from school, according to newspaper reports, although 500 of them eventually returned.

“When this bill passes and is signed into law, I think you will see illegals leaving north Alabama and going elsewhere,” said Alabama House Majority Leader Micky Harmon, the law’s chief sponsor, whose statement is quoted in the amicus brief. “This bill is designed to make these people export themselves.”

That statement, and those of other supporters, show that the legal issues in the Alabama case are nearly identical to those from a less-harsh Georgia immigration law that was recently struck down by District Court Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr., the brief argued. Thrash found that the law’s “apparent legislative intent is to create such a climate of hostility, fear, mistrust, and insecurity that all illegals will leave Georgia.”

In the groundbreaking 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Texas violated Fourteenth Amendment protections when it sought to bar the children of illegal immigrants from attending public schools.

“The Supreme Court’s 1982 Plyler decision makes it clear that children have a constitutional right to a public education regardless of their immigration status,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. “Measures that chill that right are patently unconstitutional, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

In addition to its constitutional flaws, the law fails as public policy, added NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant.

“The mission of public schools is to educate all students in their communities regardless of their immigration status,” Bryant said.  “Laws aimed at children exercising their right to a public education are bad public policy.”

In the Filarsky brief, which concerns whether a private attorney working for a government agency should be granted qualified immunity, NSBA was joined by the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.

“A decision that holds private attorneys representing school districts are not entitled to qualified immunity in that representation could be a disincentive for lawyers to continue to offer counsel to school districts across the plethora of legal specialization areas facing schools today,” Negrón said.  “The unintended consequence of such a ruling would be that school district could have difficulty retaining high quality, affordable legal counsel to represent them in their most challenging disputes.”


Lawrence Hardy|November 30th, 2011|Categories: School Law|Tags: , |


296-1244490483sgKzI’ve never really followed soccer … to be honest, I’ve really never followed any professional sport or team with much regularity.

Perhaps it’s our country’s growing fondness for “futbol” or maybe my expanding network of international friends, but it seems like the countdown and the inevitable Friday finale to the World Cup is all I seem to hear about lately.

I must admit, there is something to be said about the excitement and energy that can engulf a community when teams duke it out in a championship game. It actually reminds me of an ASBJ story I wrote a few years back on, of all things, diversity and immigration and how each impacted schools.

Naomi Dillon|July 7th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Athletics, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , |
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