New York Schools Defying Constitutional Protections for Undocumented Immigrants?


Is the “show us your papers” ethos of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 coming to New York State’s school children?

That’s what the New York Civil Liberties Union contends, in a story in today’s New York Times. Twenty percent of public school districts around the state, writes Nina Bernstein, are requiring families to provide documentation that will show their immigration status. The requirements range from the seemingly banal (showing a social security card), to the blatantly obvious (demanding a non-resident alien card).

None of it is constitutional, though.

It is legal for school districts to require families to show proof of residency in their district (requiring, say, a utility bill), but it is unlawful to require them to prove legal federal residency. This was decided in 1982 in Plyler v. Doe, which found that states must provide all children, regardless of status, a public education. The Times quotes Justice Harry Blackmun’s concurring opinion, in which he wrote that not providing even the same social benefits like public school to non-residents “raises the specter of a permanent caste of undocumented resident aliens, encouraged by some to remain here as a source of cheap labor.”

The article says that New York has done far less than other states at reigning in local school districts to comply with this federal ruling. It also contends that, although the NYCLU has found 139 different school districts asking for immigration information, they have yet to find one child denied entrance to school because of a lack of immigration papers. However, their fear is that families that fear being exposed won’t complain and will just not enroll their kids in school at all.