School Officials Are Not Immigration Officials
Over the years schools have been used by lots of people for lots of things besides offering academics for kids. After all, if you want to reach all kids or all kids and their families in a community, you try to get your program into the schools. As Willie Sutton famously said, “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”
Many of the programs schools have adopted or been forced to adopt actually help kids: the school breakfast program, for example, or inoculations for dangerous infectious diseases that erupt in a community. Other programs that schools allow may collect information for agencies that help kids and their families; school drug surveys fall into that category.
But every so often schools are asked or required to perform duties or allow access based on purely political reasons. A visit from Planned Parenthood may have to be offset by a visit from an abstinence group, for example. Some of these programs influenced by politics may further a student's education; others may actually do harm. Alabama’s new requirement for schools based on its anti-immigration law falls into the latter category.
Federal law requires that schools provide K-12 education to illegal immigrants. The law in Alabama, however, requires schools to verify the immigration status of children enrolling for the first time and report their findings to the Alabama State Department of Education. So guess what happened? Right. Hispanic children are staying home from school.
The Alabama Department of Education insists that reports on a child's immigration status will stay within the Department. And school districts insist that immigration officials will not be waiting at the school door to snatch kids and their families and deport them. Hispanic families aren’t buying it. Can you blame them?
USA Today reports that 231 Hispanic children were absent from school in Montgomery September 22, the day the law went into effect. School officials say their message that school is still a safe place hasn’t reached everyone. Actually, I think Hispanic families got the message, just not the one the schools were pushing.
Superintendent Paul McKendrick of Tuscaloosa City Schools, where at least 10 Hispanic parents have withdrawn their children and others have requested withdrawal paperwork, says, “I can understand why parents would be leery of anything that they hear and just try to protect their children and stay in the country.” In addition, the loss of student attendance will mean a loss of funding for schools in that state aid is based on enrollment. State Education Department officials met to discuss ways to better communicate with the Hispanic community. But it’s not about communication; it’s about trust.
Schools are charged with educating kids, whatever kids come through their doors regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual preference, height, weight, intelligence, or immigration status. Schools aren’t hiring kids; they’re giving them the tools to become contributing citizens of the country. Asking schools to check immigration status of incoming students is not the school’s job. It’s just plain wrong.