House Democrats are asking the Trump administration to send a clear message reminding the nation's public schools that, despite recent changes in federal immigration enforcement policy, they are still legally obligated to educate undocumented children.
The representatives expressed concern that the educational rights of undocumented students may be overlooked as the new administration cracks down on those in the country illegally. The Supreme Court ruled 25 years ago that U.S. public schools must serve all children, regardless of their immigration status.
"In this environment of trepidation, it is important that we do all we can to minimize the impact these policies have on school attendance and student learning," the top Democrats on the judiciary, education and homeland security committees wrote in a letter Monday.
The lawmakers also sought public assurance that the administration intends to avoid enforcement actions at schools and other "sensitive locations," as has been the federal government's stated policy since 2011.
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Many school officials have reported a surge of fear among immigrant families since President Donald Trump issued an executive order in January directing federal officials to enforce immigration laws against "all removable immigrants." That fear only intensified after a father in Los Angeles was detained less than half a mile from a charter school after dropping off his daughter.
Schools nationwide have been working not only to reassure families that students are safe at school, but also to help them make plans for their children's care in case both parents are detained or deported.
"Fear of immigration enforcement actions cannot be allowed to create a hostile learning environment for our children," the representatives wrote.
The letter was sent by Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Robert C. "Bobby" Scott of Virginia, and Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, the ranking Democrat on Judiciary's subcommittee on immigration and border security, also signed on.
It was addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.
DeVos recently visited an elementary school in Montgomery County, Md., a district reeling from allegations that two undocumented immigrants raped a fellow student in a high school bathroom. The alleged crime became part of the national immigration debate, with White House press secretary Sean Spicer saying it demonstrated the need for a crackdown on illegal immigration.
DeVos, who has not spoken out about public schools' obligation to serve undocumented students, did not wade into those politics, instead releasing this statement before her school visit: "As a mother of two daughters and grandmother of four young girls, my heart aches for the young woman and her family at the center of this terrible crime. We all have a common responsibility to ensure every student has access to a safe and nurturing learning environment."