Immigration advocates scored a win of sorts in early June as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declared her view that the immigration status of students is an irrelevant topic in schools. Her statements, made in the context of a Senate hearing, walk back her May testimony to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
In remarks made to elected officials last month, DeVos stated “schools and local communities can decide whether to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about students who might be undocumented,” according to The Washington Post. In response, civil rights groups, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and more than 100 congressional Democrats all chimed in their assertions that “educators who call the immigration agency on students would be violating the law.” What’s more, they said, DeVos’ reckless statements cause confusion among educators and fear within immigrant communities.
While DeVos attempted to appease the situation by issuing a statement that “schools are not, and should never become immigration enforcement zones,” she neglected to address the issue of whether teachers and administrators were permitted to call immigration authorities.
Against this backdrop, Chris Murphy, Democratic Connecticut senator, held DeVos’ feet to the fire during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing.
“So let me ask a question again, is it okay– you’re the secretary of education, there are a lot of schools that want guidance and want to understand what the law is– is it okay for a teacher or a principal to call ICE to report an undocumented student,” Murphy asked.
In response, DeVos reiterated that “a school is a place for students to be able to learn, and they should be protected there,” and variations of the statement.
But refusing to accept anything but a direct answer, Murphy asked, “So they can’t call ICE?”
“I don’t think they can,” DeVos responded.
Official immigration policy avoids enforcement actions in so-called sensitive areas– schools, churches, hospitals and the like. “But civil rights advocates have panned immigration authorities for arresting parents near schools, saying it drives undocumented students and children of undocumented parents away from the classroom,” WaPo reports.
An estimated 3.9 million– 7.3 percent– of schoolchildren in 2014 had at least 1 undocumented parent, according to the Pew Research Center. Approximately 725,000 of those children themselves were classified as undocumented.