In updated guidelines released last week, the Justice and Education Departments reminded states that they are obligated by law to enroll students in their districts regardless of legal status. In a letter to schools, Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder said that they had “become aware of student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status.”
The questionable practices were the subject of complaints in states like Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico and the District of Columbia. For example, 138 New Jersey school districts have been asking students and parents for immigration documents. HB 56, Alabama’s mostly-dismantled anti-immigrant law, famously asked students to declare their legal status.
Raising the barriers to enrollment, Holder said, “not only harm innocent children, they also markedly weaken our nation … by leaving young people unprepared and ill-equipped to succeed and contribute to what is, in many cases, the only home they have ever known.”
Last week’s guidelines don’t change anything — rather, their purpose is to expound on a settled, 32-year old law. Still, opponents of immigration reform have been kvetching about the guidelines, challenging the idea that there is a problem at all, debating the “chilling” nature that Duncan and Holder reference, and arguing that such allowances encourage more undocumented immigration.
“The Obama administration pointedly told American public schools on Thursday that they must enroll the children of illegal immigrants despite little to nothing in the way of legitimate documentation concerning how old the kids are or where they live,” began a piece at the Daily Caller, which also called the guidelines a “lecture.”
“More than 30 years later, people wonder how we ended up with such a huge immigration mess on our hands,” noted Town Hall, which defended the dissenting opinion in Plyler v. Doe, the 1982 case that established the right to a public education for all, including immigrants.
“This is simply part of the administration’s ongoing effort to gut immigration law and normalize illegal immigration,” complained a post at National Review.
This is only the latest illustration of the GOP’s basic problem with immigrants and immigration reform. The fact that all children in the US — including undocumented children who did not make the decision to come here — have a fundamental right to an education is not controversial. But there exists a Steve King wing of conservatism which takes issue with even these basic points. Right now, Speaker Boehner is allowing those extremists to dictate House immigration policy. And that, ultimately, is going to mean very bad news for the GOP.