MADISON, Wis. – The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District recently sent an email to families assuring that its schools are “safe places that embrace all students and families, regardless of citizenship and national origin.”
Several school districts across the state have communicated the same, that “all students, regardless of immigration status,” are entitled to a free public education.
Some taxpayers are voicing their concerns about the “free” education to students whose families have broken the nation’s immigration laws.
“What (the school district) is doing is urging illegals to attend school,” a Middleton-Cross Plains school district resident, who identified himself as Dick, told Wisconsin Watchdog on Wednesday on the Dan Conry Show, on NewsTalk 1310 WIBA. “It’s my taxpayer money.”
“If the school administration wants to have illegal aliens attending school at taxpayers’ expense, hey, take it out of your salary, Mr. Superintendent, and the teachers who want this sort of thing. … The law says they should not be here.”
The district’s superintendent did not return calls seeking comment on the communication.
But one court decision has been the guiding force on educating illegal immigrants in the United States for 35 years, and as it remains, taxpayers having to pick up the tab for illegal immigrant students is the law.
The 1982 U.S Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe held that children of illegal immigrants have a constitutional right to attend public elementary and secondary school for free.
“[The National Education Association] opposes any immigration policy that denies human and/or civil rights or educational opportunities to immigrants and their children regardless of their immigration status,” asserts the teachers union in a 36-page booklet co-published by the National School Boards Association.
“Legal Issues for School Districts Related to the Education of Undocumented Children,” as the guide is called, points to Plyler in addressing common questions about school districts and the rights of undocumented students.
The Supreme Court ruled that Texas violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by denying undocumented school-age children a free public education.
“Reasoning that such children are in this country through no fault of their own, the Court concluded that they are entitled to the same K-12 education that the state provides to children who are citizens or legal residents,” the NEA/NASB handbook notes.
But what about the hardship placed on school districts and their property taxpayers? What about the rising costs and strain on school resources?
These are not hardships, according to the court ruling.
“The Court in Plyler concluded that for the state to deny undocumented children access to a free public education, the state must demonstrate that doing so serves a ‘substantial goal,” according to the NEA publication.
It rejected the argument that restricting undocumented student enrollment would protect the state from an influx of illegal immigrants, and would relieve the state of the added, unique costs of educating undocumented children, thus retaining resources for children who are citizens or legal residents.
A public school education, according the court decision, inculcates “fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system” and “provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives.” The ruling stressed that denying the children of illegal immigrants access to a public education could doom them to live within a “permanent caste of undocumented resident aliens.”
In essence, the court declared that the cost of not educating undocumented children is higher than the cost to taxpayers to do so.
But the added education costs amid rising illegal immigrant numbers in the United States cannot be dismissed.
A Pew Research Center report found that, between 1995 and 2012, the percentage of K-12 students with at least one undocumented immigrant parent rose from 3.2 percent to 6.9 percent. The number was 13.2 percent in California, and 17.7 percent in Nevada.
While a definitive tracking of the costs is difficult, the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated that the states would spend a combined $761.4 million in 2014-15 to educate the unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors from the year’s border crisis. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported than more than 37,000 of the undocumented children were released to relatives and other sponsors between January and July 31 2014. FAIR’s numbers are based on the HHS count.
Wisconsin taxpayers paid nearly $1.18 million in additional costs to educate the undocumented students who came in with families from the border crisis, according to FAIR estimates. New York taxpayers had the biggest bill, $147.7 million, according to the estimates.
In 1996, a bill in Congress would have allowed states to deny education benefits to certain illegal immigrants or charge them tuition. After a veto threat by President Bill Clinton, the legislation died.
In 2014, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued new guidance to public schools, demanding that they freely accept documents from illegal parents and end practices of requiring proof of a child’s immigration status.
“Public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin,’ Holder said in a statement in May 2014. Holder said the DOJ would do “everything it can” to force schools meet their obligations under the law.
With the pitched battles over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and fears over federal immigration raids and arrests of illegal immigrants accused or convicted of various crimes, advocates for illegal immigrants have warned that children could be ripped away from their families or dragged out of schools.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for FAIR, said these are days of extreme hyperbole. He said the Middleton-Cross Plains school district is doing what so many others across the country are doing: ratcheting up fear without evidence to support their claims.
“What these districts are engaged in is grandstanding,” Mehlman said. “Nobody is anticipating immigration officials are going to bust down schoolhouse doors and arrest kids in fourth grade. There is no reason to believe that’s going to happen.”
Mehlman said what is going on now is the kind of law enforcement that should have been going on for a long time.
While opponents may not like immigration laws and policy, the law needs to be upheld, Mehlman said.
But the immigration expert said the law also applies to the 1982 Supreme Court decision, and he doesn’t foresee the basic tenets of that case being challenged anytime soon.
“What we should be doing is preventing and discouraging people (illegal immigrants) from coming here in the first place,” Mehlman said. “If we were doing that, we wouldn’t be dealing with the consequences on schools or emergency rooms. The schoolhouse door is not where to deal with illegal immigration.”
Immigration enforcement advocates say law enforcement needs to first and foremost target businesses that routinely skirt the law in hiring illegals to cheaply fill their workforce. And he likes Trump’s order going after local “sanctuary” governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement.
The Dane County Chiefs of Police Association recently sent out a notice to “reassure people who live, work, attend school, drive through or visit our communities that Law Enforcement Officers do not routinely ask people they are in contact with what their immigration status is.”
“Law Enforcement Officers in Dane County do not detain or arrest people solely for suspected violations of immigration laws,” the letter states.
“Being practitioners of Community Policing, we realize the chilling effect that the threat of deportation has on people of the immigrant community. We want all people to feel comfortable working with the police, reporting crimes, being witnesses and otherwise participating in everyday activities in our communities.
“We are aware that recent events have spread fear and uncertainty to our refugee and immigrant community and it is our intent by releasing this statement to reassure everyone that the right to receive services from Dane County Law Enforcement is not dependent on their immigration status,” the letter concludes.
Not everyone is happy with that stance.
“You have taken an oath to uphold the law. You should follow it or else you should not be a police officer,” Dick, the Middleton Cross-Plains school district resident said.