Long Island must accept that education is a universal right
In disgraceful demonstration of intolerance, schools are turning away undocumented immigrants
After managing to illegally cross the border into the United States, undocumented immigrants on Long Island face an equally daunting task: enrolling their children in school.
Both legally and ethically, the schools preventing students from signing up for classes on Long Island – where Suffolk and Nassau Counties rank third and fifth respectively in numbers of arriving unaccompanied minors – are wholeheartedly and reprehensibly wrong.
Legally, public schools in the United States are required to provide an education for non-citizen children of illegal immigrants. That battle has already been fought – in the Supreme Court in 1982 – and the children won.
Recently, schools have begun to feel comfortable ignoring the Supreme Court. The New York Times reported that the Justice and Education Departments dealt with an influx of complaints about schools discouraging enrollment by immigrant children, requiring visas, Social Security cards and driver’s licenses from parents – documents that this population generally cannot obtain.
Last May, Attorney General Eric Holder reminded districts of these laws – and their obligations as education providers.
But Long Island continues to flout federal policy.
Schools regularly drown parents in overwhelming amounts of paperwork, demanding not just basic and important information like immunization records, proof of residency and contact information, but affidavits from landlords, notarized paperwork and mortgage statements or homeowner deeds.
Paperwork and policy is important in administrative contexts, but so is flexibility.
Long Island’s reputation with respect to immigrants has long been sullied, as school districts in the ’90s tried to expel undocumented students or impose a requirement of permanent resident visas.
Years later, they’re continuing an unfortunate trend, costing children their education and the opportunities they fled their homes in order to pursue.
Like the outright discrimination practiced years ago, the schools’ intolerant behavior towards immigrant children extends beyond the passive resistance of unnecessary paperwork and administrative obstacles.
Even students who managed to enroll in Long Island schools have found themselves turned away due to their status: dozens of students reported arriving at school only to be told to sign an attendance sheet, then leave.
The state of New York and the federal government have responded admirably, demonstrating that they, unlike the schools in question, understand their obligation to all children, regardless of their nationality or immigrant status. And thanks to the in-depth and humanizing reporting by the New York Times, the public is aware of this problem.
Though it’s disheartening to see the selfish unethicality on the part of educators who should be anything but self-centered, it’s equally encouraging to know that this issue will not be overlooked or ignored.
The problem must be resolved, and quickly: as a result of Long Island’s intolerance, inflexibility and what essentially amounts to stubborn immaturity, children are left feeling lonely, unwanted and left out.
And even more problematic than damaged psyches is the denial of what is an inarguable human right – the right to an education.