Secretary DeVos Makes Erroneous claims regarding undocumented students in schools

Written by: Stephanie Perez-Carrillo
Date Posted: June 8, 2018

Last week the Colorado Children’s Campaign joined the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 186 other local, state and national organizations in submitting a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who told the House Education and Workforce Committee that reporting undocumented students to authorities is “a school decision.” The letter urged Secretary DeVos to clarify that she understands the role of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice in enforcing the Supreme Court’s landmark case of Plyler v. Doe, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

In 1975, the Texas legislature revised the state’s education laws, allowing them to withhold state funds from local school districts for students enrolled who were not “legally admitted” into the U.S. and authorizing schools to bar such students. In response, Tyler Independent School District in northeast Texas, under the direction of Superintendent James Plyler, adopted a policy that required each undocumented student to pay an annual tuition of $1,000. As a result, a group of children of Mexican origin were unable to attend school. 

A class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court, brought on behalf of four families, followed. The court allowed the families to be identified by pseudonyms (John Doe) and deduced that the statute didn’t serve “the purpose or effect of keeping illegal aliens out of the State of Texas” or improve the quality of education. The school district took the case to an appeals court, and it later filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court upheld prior rulings and found the policy in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which declares that “no State shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ 

Secretary DeVos’ comments during the Education Committee hearing comes during a sensitive time for our undocumented communities, who are still facing uncertainty and lack of clarity for the future of DACA. We stand by our undocumented students and families and urge Secretary DeVos to announce and affirm that all children in this country have a right to a public education from kindergarten through 12th grade regardless of their immigration status. Schools may not do anything to deny or suspend access to that constitutional right, including by reporting, or threatening to report, children to ICE. This right is protected by the Supreme Court and federal law and cannot be changed by the Secretary of Education, the Attorney General, any state, district, school, or any individual. 

Click here to read the letter to Secretary DeVos. 

Stephanie Perez-Carrillo

About Stephanie Perez-Carrillo

Stephanie works as a Policy Analyst for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign, she worked as a Public Policy Fellow at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado – where she found her love and passion for policy work. Before diving into the policy world, Stephanie served as a Teach for America Corps Member in South Carolina, teaching high school and middle school math. Early on while obtaining her degree in Marketing from Florida International University, she worked in health care as a Patient Advocate and Unit Secretary. When she is not working, you can typically find her at a coffee shop, hanging out with friends, or engaging in some type of outdoor activity.