- Asked at a Tuesday Senate hearing if school staff could report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos replied, "I don't think they can," Chalkbeat reports.
- DeVos previously commented at a House hearing that it was “a school decision” whether to report undocumented students to ICE, which prompted responses from civil rights groups that the statement stood in opposition to Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 ruling that schools must educate undocumented students.
- On Tuesday, however, DeVos mentioned Plyler, though Chalkbeat reported that she also sidestepped several opportunities to reply "yes" or "no" to the undocumented student question. Her spokesperson, Liz Hill, said, “She did not avoid the question and was very clear schools are not, and should not ever become, immigration enforcement zones."
The ever-changing, highly charged political landscape has left administrators and educators stymied over what they legally can and cannot do when it comes to undocumented students. Thornier still are the practical and ethical issues swirling around the situation.
The official policy of the U.S. Department of Immigration is that it can't undertake enforcement action in "sensitive areas." These include places of worship, hospitals, funerals, weddings and schools. That said, civil rights activists have called out immigration authorities for making arrests in neighborhoods near schools, thus pushing undocumented students away from classrooms.
When administrators provide information to district families on their rights under federal, state and district policies, it may be worth keeping in mind that legal experts maintain that referring to a school as a "sanctuary" may be taken literally. That could cause families to believe schools can give them greater legal protection than is actually the case.
For instance, in Clark County, Nev., and several other districts, administrators limit ICE school access by processing requests through a district lawyer or the superintendent's office. Yet, as required by law, the school authorities will assist agents if called upon to do so, reports Education Week. ICE is a federal agency with legal authority to enforce immigration law, so there could be situations in which they can gain access to a school after making a strong enough case that it's necessary.
Back in 2004 in Albuquerque, N.M., Border Patrol Agents questioned undocumented students at a school, resulting in a suit from the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and subsequent settlements. Now, Albuquerque officers are prevented from "stopping, questioning, detaining, investigating, or arresting" minors on or in the vicinity of public school grounds.