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The ABC’s of Immigration and Schools

Debates about immigration are heating up just as children head back to school. Here are some facts to know about the children in your child’s school, whatever their immigration status:

1.There is no legal obligation to report someone you suspect is in the U.S. illegally.

Unless you are an employer, you have no obligation to ask for or report the immigration status of anyone. Even if you hire a person as a contractor, you do not need to determine their status nor can you be in legal jeopardy because of their status.

2. It is best not to assume anything about a person’s immigration status. It is nearly impossible to determine a person’s status just by observing him or her. Many of those who live in the U.S. as legal permanent residents do not speak English. Some still fear deportation (although it is rare) and have misconceptions about how they can be treated. Many families include members with different immigration status so children are often confused about how much they can say to others.

Nearly half of those people in the U.S. without current legal status entered the country legally on a visitor, student or other visa.   Some immigrants were granted legal residency as refugees or asylum seekers and fear speaking about their background because of the persecution they experienced or because of fear of reprisals for their family left behind.

A person in the U.S. on a legal visa may fall out of status if their job or school situation changes and they have not been able to apply for a new visa. Some immigrants are awaiting status hearings. Determining a person’s legal status is not always as simple as it might seem and the vast majority of immigrants in the U.S. are here legally.

3. All children are required to attend school, whatever their immigration status.

Federal and state laws require that all children—regardless of their immigration status or those of their parents—enroll in school. Children must stay in school until the age required by their state (at least 16, but in some states older). So even if a child in school does not have legal immigrant status, he or she not only has a right to be in school, but also an obligation.

But that also means that many of the children attending school from immigrant families lack the resources at home to succeed in school or have parents who lack the language skills to help them study or assist in filling out forms or navigating extra-curricular activities.

4. Teachers and school authorities are not allowed to ask about the immigration status of children or their families.

Although school officials may ask for proof of a child’s age or that a child lives within the boundaries of the school district, they may not ask about citizenship or immigration status. Nor can they prevent a child from enrolling if he or she does not have a social security number or a U.S birth certificate.

Questioning a teacher or school administrator about a child’s immigration status is a violation of the child’s privacy and could jeopardize that teacher’s job.

5. It is not against the law to welcome a family into your home or help them, even if they are undocumented.

Including new children in the classroom in your family events is a wonderful way to help them feel accepted. Showing hospitality to a child or a family whose immigration status is questionable does not create legal problems for citizens.

New children in any classroom often feel lonely and need a friend. Children whose families are from a different country or culture can feel even more isolated. Reaching out to such a child is not only legal; it is a special act of kindness.

Perhaps one of the best lessons a child can learn is how to make someone who feels like an outsider become truly accepted.


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