Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Missouri Legislator Wants State to Check Students’ Immigration Status

By federal law, children who are undocumented immigrants are entitled to a free public education, but in several states lawmakers nevertheless are pursuing policies to count exactly how many of these children are enrolled in schools.

Alabama and Arizona already have passed laws requiring schools to check students’ immigration status though courts have blocked the implementation. Now Jason Hancock of the Kansas City Star reports  that Missouri State Sen. Will Kraus, a Republican, has proposed a bill that would require schools to check students’ immigration status. The children would be asked to provide birth certificates or other proof of legal residency.

My question is, do these efforts constitute an attempt to chip away at the precedent set by the 1982 Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision? Plyler established that public schools must educate all children, regardless of immigration status.

In 2010, when I reported on some Texas politicians’ desire to track students’ immigration status for The Dallas Morning News, a representative of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund raised concerns that checking status violates the Plyler decision. He argued that the action intimidates families and could result in children being kept out of school.

“There’s no educational purpose,” MALDEF attorney David Hinojosa told me. “It’s very mean-spirited and leads nowhere.”

In Alabama, many students didn’t show up for class after that state’s law was initially passed.

Kraus told the Star he just wants the information so he can gauge how much the students’ education, including special programs such as English language learner instruction, costs the state and taxpayers. The article notes that schools would turn over data to the General Assembly in a report. Students’ identities would not be revealed.

“This is simply an attempt to track non-citizens in public schools in order to get an accurate set of data,” Kraus said.

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, complaints about the cost of educating undocumented immigrant children resulted in Texas allowing school districts to charge these students tuition to attend school in the 1970s. Many low-income families couldn’t afford this expense. The Plyler decision stopped these practices in Texas.

Make sure you’re watching the bills coming up in your state legislatures to see if politicians in your state are pushing similar proposals.