Undocumented Students and the Right to Public Education

by Raymond G. Lahoud, Esquire

Throughout recent decades millions of individuals have immigrated—both lawfully and unlawfully—into the United States. It is not uncommon for the U.S. government and media to cover the legal implications of immigration, but one topic is all too frequently left out of the spotlight: education.

Challenges in educating immigrant students

According to U.S. law, all minors living within the country’s borders are entitled to an education. Though the United States guarantees access to public school as a human right, there are still many complexities when it comes to educating immigrant students. For centuries, immigrants have come to the U.S. seeking a better life, and today’s immigrants are no different. Oftentimes students who have traveled to the United States have escaped dangerous living conditions, poor education systems or extreme poverty.

With a growing number of immigrant students making their way into the classroom, schools are taking action to make necessary adjustments. This can mean enrolling an increasing number of students, training school counselors on immigration issues or hosting workshops for immigrant students’ families. Schools are also modifying their services to account for the need for bilingual teachers, mental health support for immigrant children and other new challenges.

Education as a human right

Despite these intricacies, schools are pooling their resources to adapt to students’ needs. Though many schools are happy to make such changes, the U.S. federal government has deemed that it is the right of every single child in America—undocumented or documented—to receive a public education. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education have jointly mandated that undocumented children residing in the country must receive the same public school educational opportunities as their citizen counterparts. Additionally, schools are not permitted to conduct potentially discriminatory investigations or questioning about the legal status of immigrant students or their relatives.

Fortunately, students and their families nationwide are taking advantage of this opportunity, and are enrolling in U.S. public schools at staggering rates. According to research from the federal government, more than 630,000 immigrant students throughout the U.S. participated in the 2013-2014 school year—and that number is expected to continue to grow. An increasing number of immigrant students seeking public education means it is more important than ever for school districts to stay on top of immigration education laws and ensure all regulations are followed.

Though undocumented children have a right to public education, enrolling in a school district or determining potentially discriminatory behavior can still pose complex challenges for families. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s education, it is key to work with a legal professional who can provide appropriate support. To learn more, consult with an experienced Pennsylvania immigration lawyer at Baurkot & Baurkot today.