Blog: Latino Ed Beat

D.C. Afterschool Programs Asking Immigration Status of Students

The Washington, D.C., public schools began asking the immigration status of children applying to participate in afterschool programs for the first time this year, raising some concerns among members of the Latino community.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported reported that the school system apparently inadvertently issued a news release in error about the sensitive issue that seemed to indicate the practice would no longer continue. The Washington Times reported that the incorrect release quoted D.C. Office of Latino Affairs director Roxana Olivas as saying that asking children’s immigration status discriminated against families, eroded trust with parents and discouraged participation of parents in the program.

But school officials later retracted that release and issued a new release saying they will continue to ask status because of federal requirements tied to a $6.8 million grant the district received supporting the programs. District officials pointed out that federal funds cannot be used toward illegal immigrants, even though they are allowed to attend public schools.

However, they also said the district would use other funds to allow undocumented children to participate in the programs.

“While DCPS does receive HHS funding, it uses other funds to ensure all children can participate in afterschool programming,” the release noted. “DCPS has said that it has no intention of turning students or families away for afterschool programs or services. Parents who do not submit the citizenship documentation will still be permitted to enroll their children in afterschool programs.”

The dueling press releases clearly illustrate that asking children’s status can be a sensitive and controversial issue.

The Plyler v. Doe U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed undocumented children to attend public K-12 schools. Recent attempts by legislators to ask children’s status and track the numbers of undocumented students in U.S. schools have stirred up controversies in several states. They’ve also caused civil rights groups to say that such actions discourage children from enrolling in school.

This incident in the District raises an interesting issue. In many communities, non-profit groups partner with schools to provide services and federal funds are used to help children in programs that extend beyond school hours. Have you heard of children being asked their status by groups, or even told they cannot participate in a program because they are undocumented? Does this practice discourage children from participating in these activities?