Five things to understand about LA Unified's stand for undocumented immigrant students
For the estimated 13 percent of the kids in California public schools who has at least one parent who's an undocumented immigrant — and the more than 245,000 children in the state who are undocumented themselves — President-elect Donald Trump's victory has raised big questions and stoked fears.
Trump has indicated he will take a harder line on illegal immigration, promising to step up deportations and cancel federal funding for sanctuary cities. There are few indications the new administration intends to bring this toughened immigration stance to public school campuses.
Still, last week, the Los Angeles Unified School Board drew a pre-emptive line in the sand.
Board members approved a resolution that vows the district will guard students' data against "any future policies or executive action" Trump might take "to the fullest extent provided by the law." It also reaffirmed the district's declaration that L.A. Unified campuses are "safe zones" off-limits to immigration enforcement agents.
But will the resolution have any real impact? And could L.A. Unified's stand for undocumented students put the district's own federal funding at risk? Here are five factors to consider:
First, some really important background: U.S. public schools cannot turn away students because of their immigration status.
That's because of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe, in which justices ruled that denying undocumented students access to K-12 schools "imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status."
It's a mandate that comes at a cost. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an advocacy group favoring stepped-up immigration enforcement, has estimated that teaching undocumented students costs California schools more than $3.3 billion annually; educating children whose parents are undocumented — a much larger group — costs billions more.
The federal government has tried to stop districts from discouraging undocumented students from enrolling in public schools. Will it stay that way?
In 2014, the Obama administration sought to tamp down "student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage" undocumented kids from signing up for school. For instance, undocumented parents may not understand their child does not need a U.S. birth certificate to enroll in school or that schools cannot turn them away if they produce records showing their child wasn't born in the U.S.
But that's not red-letter law; it's just the current federal guidance, attorney Victor Leung of the ACLU of Southern California noted. "It's less than clear what the new administration's stance is going to be on those kinds of issues," Leung said.
L.A. Unified does not collect data on citizenship status — but the district does collect data that could be useful to immigration enforcement.
For instance, the district's enrollment form asks for the child's country of birth. Even a students' English Learner status could be a tip-off, Leung said.
Enter the L.A. Unified school board's resolution. "We are not going to cooperate," said school board president Steve Zimmer in an interview Friday, "with federal immigration authorities who attempt in any way shape or form to use a school site as part of their enforcement activities."
Zimmer did hedge that answer in a few ways: he said the district would not obstruct Five things to understand about LA Unified's stand for undocumented immigrant students | 89.3 KPCC: