Linnea Nelson: Know Your Rights: Your School Has No Business Checking Your Immigration Status

Aug. 18, 2017 – In this time when our federal government has ordered ICE officials to aggressively pursue undocumented folks, it’s important to remind some of our most vulnerable populations about their constitutional rights.

Though the Trump administration has repeatedly said that only “bad dudes” will be targeted, we’ve seen stories that prove that is not the case. Agents are going into places they shouldn’t, like churchesshelters, and courthouses.

And we’re concerned about another institution that should be off limits: schools.

Some school districts have taken measures to protect students from federal immigration authorities. Others have not.

Every child in California has the right to a public education regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, language, disability, or immigration status. Schools are required by law to provide a safe and welcoming environment so that students can focus on the reason they are there: to learn.

The right to education means going to school without being afraid that you or your family members will be deported, or teachers asking questions that instill fear, or administrators demanding unnecessary documents.

1982 Supreme Court decision holds that states can’t deny students a free public education due to immigration status. And the California School Boards Association has also made clear that any inquiry into immigration status may violate federal law.

Still, some schools are asking students to provide immigration papers, social security cards, even birth certificates when they register or enroll. This is not ok. Schools are only allowed to ask for documents that prove the student lives in the district, like a utility bill.

We worry that these tactics will keep some children from going to school, prevent parents from becoming engaged with their child’s school, and may even discourage parents from enrolling their kids. In California, the fear of deportation primarily affects non-white, non-English speaking students.

So we’re releasing Know Your Rights resources in English and Spanish to remind parents and students of their rights in California.

We are also working with community organizations across the state on a sanctuary schools campaign to ensure that school districts pledge not to cooperate with law enforcement activities on campus that do not have a school-related purpose, such as immigration enforcement.  Read more about how you can advocate for a model sanctuary schools board policy in your school district in our Parents’ Guide to School Board Advocacy.

Linnea Nelson is education equity staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. www.aclunc.org