The NYT reports that some New York state schools are asking for social security numbers of students. The article intones that this is something of a violation of a 1980s era ruling by the Supreme Court. The grafs:
Three decades after the Supreme Court ruled that immigration violations
cannot be used as a basis to deny children equal access to a public
school education, one in five school districts in New York State is
routinely requiring a child’s immigration papers as a prerequisite to
enrollment, or asking parents for information that only lawful
immigrants can provide.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, which culled a list of 139 such
districts from hundreds of registration forms and instructions posted
online, has not found any children turned away for lack of immigration
paperwork. But it warned in a letter to the state’s education
commissioner on Wednesday that the requirements listed by many
registrars, however free of discriminatory intent, “will inevitably
discourage families from enrolling in school for fear that they would be
reported to federal immigration authorities.”
For months, the group has been pushing the State Education Department to
stop the practices, which range from what the advocates consider
unintentional barriers, like requiring a Social Security number, to
those the letter called “blatantly discriminatory,” like one demanding
that noncitizen children show a “resident alien card,” with the warning
that “if the card is expired, it will not be accepted.”
But the Education Department has resisted doing anything to address the
issue directly, in contrast with several other states — including
Maryland, Nebraska and New Jersey — where education officials have taken
strong steps in recent years to halt similar practices.
“It is the responsibility of each local school district to ensure that
it complies with all laws and decisions regarding student registration,”
Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the department, said in a brief e-mail
message in response to a reporter’s inquiries. “Under New York’s
education law, anyone who is aggrieved by an action or decision of a
district that allegedly violates the law may appeal to the commissioner
for a review of that action or decision.”
A more fundamental question is why did the Supreme Court rule that illegal immigrant children have a right to education? For that we can look at the actual opinion and some key findings. First, not really a surprise is that the whole question of educating illegal immigrants came from Texas. Second that the gist of the argument centered on funding for the schools. The ruling:
Respecting defendants’ further claim that § 21.031 was simply a financial measure designed to avoid a drain on the State’s fisc, the court recognized that the increases in population resulting from the immigration of Mexican nationals into the United States had created problems for the public schools of the State, and that these problems were exacerbated by the special educational needs of immigrant Mexican children. The court noted, however, that the increase in school enrollment was primarily attributable to the admission of children who were legal residents. Id. at 575-576. It also found that, while the “exclusion of all undocumented children from the public schools in Texas would eventually result in economies at some level,” id. at 576, funding from both the State and Federal Governments was based primarily on the number of children enrolled. In net effect, then, barring undocumented children from the schools would save money, but it would “not necessarily” improve “the quality of education.” Id. at 577.
This is somewhat of convoluted reasoning, since the argument that the federal government, and state government supply educational dollars still boils down to the resident taxpayers funding that very same education. In Connecticut, we can see how that fairness in tax dollars from the feds and state works, cities like Stamford and Norwalk get little dollars while Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven get many dollars. School populations, immigrant population not a factor. But that’s a digression. The egregious part is that the court acknowledged that the schools would save money, and yet claimed that it would not necessarily improve the quality of education. That is so highly speculative since in the 30 years since, there’s nothing in the record to suggest that money, more or less, results in better or worse education.
The more interesting court reasoning is that today’s undocumented illegal immigrant may tommorrow be a legal immigrant and so:
Finally, the court noted that, under current laws and practices, “the illegal alien of today may well be the legal alien of tomorrow,” [n4] and that, without an education, these undocumented [p208] children,
[a]lready disadvantaged as a result of poverty, lack of English-speaking ability, and undeniable racial prejudices, . . . will become permanently locked into the lowest socio-economic class.
But if the purpose of limiting immigration is to avoid teeming populations of lowest socio-economic classes, then why not follow through with the immigration limitation policy through requiring that any student enrolled in schools be on the path towards obtaining legal immigrant status? The ruling then goes on to interpret the fifth and fourteenth amendments:
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that
[n]o State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
But equal protection under laws should also apply to the right to be deported. Which gets to the heart of the matter here. If the right to a free education is law, then so must the right to be deported if there’s no legal immigration in the works. Meaning that the schools which ask for documentation of immigrant status cannot discriminate and prevent illegal immigrants for enrolling in schools, but that they have a duty to report the status of students that are in fact illegal immigrants to immigration authorities. Just as if they would be obligated to report any other crime.
Of course no one slice of the immigration issue addresses the fundamental issue at stake here. American policies on immigration reflect anti-immigration sentiments, making it hard for immigrants to seek a path to legal residency. Thus the pool of illegal immigrants grow when a pro-immigration policy would result in more legal immigrants and stripping the “cost” factor out of the equation. Immigration, historically is what has fueled the American economy for decades. If education is a part of that economic engine, then the policies of who and how a student gets education should certainly take into account their immigration status.
Other countries, like Canada have grasped this fact and place new immigrants in programs to address assimilation either via language instruction or citizenship. The burden of teaching new immigrants English, if they don’t speak it, shouldn’t fall on local school districts when it is the federal policy that determines immigrant status. An immigration process that includes instruction on language, laws and good citizenship would go a long way to tap into the economic benefits of immigration by encouraging assimilation into American society. Instead we hope that like Darryl Hannah in Splash, our immigrant populations will just somehow learn about all this stuff through television.