Students, Immigration Status, and the Right to Public Education

Students, immigration status, and the right to public education

The following is a cross-post from the Office for Civil Rights.

An essential part of ensuring equal opportunity is protecting all students in their access to education free from discrimination. This includes the right of all students in the United States to attend America’s public elementary and secondary schools, regardless of their immigration or citizenship status.

Students continue to have this right to public elementary and secondary education after last Friday’s federal district court ruling regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which bars the Department of Homeland Security from approving new applicants but temporarily permits renewals to continue for those who currently have DACA. Secretary Cardona stated in response to the ruling:

We are deeply disappointed by the recent decision by a federal district court in Texas to block access to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. The outcome will be harmful to promising young people who have grown up here, and shared their talents and energies with our communities. Many of these young people cannot remember any other home.

Through the centuries, this nation – including our schools – has been enriched by those who have come to our shores from all over the world, seeking safety, freedom, and the opportunity to contribute to our democracy. We draw strength from our diversity. I want to be clear that under the law, public elementary and secondary schools remain available to any student, and no state can deny access to public education to any resident, regardless of their immigration status. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will continue to safeguard those rights for all students, including those affected by the ruling. We will work to ensure the nation’s public schools, colleges and universities will be welcoming, safe and supportive places where all students, regardless of where they’re born and their immigration status, are given the opportunity to succeed.

Here’s what you need to know about the right to a public education for students who are not U.S. citizens:

  • A State may not deny access to public education to any child residing in the State, including children who are not citizens and do not have immigration documentation. The Supreme Court made this clear nearly forty years ago in a case called Plyler v. Doe.
  • School districts may not bar students from enrolling in public elementary and secondary schools based on the citizenship or immigration status of the student or their parent or guardian.
  • School districts may not request information about the citizenship or immigration status of students or their families with the purpose or result of denying them access to educational opportunities.
  • Students who are English learners have a right to appropriate language assistance services, and parents and guardians have a right to receive communications from their children’s school in a language they can understand.

We invite you to use these resources that are designed to help students, families, schools, and districts understand the rights of students who are undocumented and the obligations of the schools that serve them:

  • Dear Colleague Letter on School Enrollment and Student Citizenship, including guidance on schools’ obligations to permit students to enroll and participate in a school’s educational services without discrimination based on the immigration status of students or their parents or guardians.
  • Dear Colleague Letter on English Learners and Limited English Proficient Parents, including guidance on the rights of students who are English learners and the rights of parents and guardians who have limited English proficiency.
  • Information on the Rights of All Children to Enroll in School: Questions and Answers for States, School Districts and Parents, which answers questions about enrollment, documentation, and measures to support students with undocumented immigration status.
  • Fact Sheet: Information on the Rights of All Children to Enroll in School, with information for families and school districts about documentation and enrollment policies.
  • Resource Guide – Supporting Undocumented Youth, with information about legal guidelines, models from the field, and more to support students in elementary, secondary and postsecondary education. 
  • Institutions of higher education can continue to provide emergency grants through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to DACA recipients so they can enroll and continue in postsecondary education.

Our nation derives strength from our diversity and has excelled because of, not in spite of, the many people who have come to the United States from all parts of the world. We grow stronger still when all students in the United States have full access to education, free from discrimination. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stands ready to provide that protection.

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