“It is imperative that you immediately make clear publicly, to children, their families, and educators in every public school in multiple languages and through all of the Department’s communication channels that all children in this country have a right to a public education from kindergarten through 12th grade regardless of their immigration status.”
This, from a letter to education secretary Betsy DeVos, from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, on behalf of 180 major civil rights and education groups.
The letter comes a week after president Trumps embattled, controversial secretary of education made shocking comments during testimony to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
In that testimony, when asked by Representative Adriano D. Espaillat Cabral, (D-N.Y.) if school officials should report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DeVos replied “I think that’s a school decision, it’s a local community decision.”
The comment was roundly criticized as ignorant of the law, with civil rights groups worried it could act as precursor to further erode the “sensitive” status that schools have when it comes to immigration enforcement.
“Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution,” -Lorella Praeli, the American Civil Liberties Union’s director of immigration policy and campaigns
In a statement, DeVos responded to criticism, saying “every child should feel safe going to school. It is unfortunate that those who seek to polarize and divide have intentionally tried to misrepresent my position on this issue to cause unnecessary fear for students and families.”
Unconvinced, the coalition of nearly 200 Civil Rights and Education groups are calling on the Secretary of Education to clarify that she understands that the landmark supreme court case Plyler v. Doe guarantees undocumented immigrants’ right to public education, noting that her original statement has already caused harm.
It’s hard to reconcile the Education Secretary’s idea that it’s a “school decision” to alert ICE of students immigration status, with her later statement that every child should feel safe going to school.
UPDATE: Over 100 lawmakers have sent Secretary DeVos a separate letter, also insisting she correct her original statement that it is a “school decision” whether or not to notify the government of students’ immigration status.
“Left uncorrected, your tesimony leaves immigrant communities fearful of interaction with public schools. Left uncorrected, your testimony could do irreparable harm to educational opportunity for undocumented children.”
Following both letters, Betsy DeVos seems to have finally said definitively that teachers cannot refer undocumented students to ICE, in an exchange with Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT).
Sen. Murphy: "So, they can't call ICE?"@BetsyDeVosED: "I don't think they can."
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 5, 2018
Read the original letter below: