The Obama administration issued updated guidelines Thursday aimed at ensuring that public schools enroll undocumented immigrant children, saying the move was necessary to protect their rights under federal law.
“The Justice Department will do everything it can to make sure schools meet this obligation,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said on a conference call with reporters. “We will vigilantly enforce the law.”
In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that public elementary and secondary schools could not discriminate against students based on their immigration status or charge undocumented children more money for their education.
The new guidelines, which include examples of proper and improper enrollment practices, replace instructions issued by the departments of Justice and Education in 2011. Officials at the Office of Civil Rights said they have investigated 17 complaints in school districts in Washington, D.C., Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico. In Georgia, the Education Department evaluated the enrollment practices of 200 school districts, officials said.
"Sadly, too many schools and school districts are still denying rights," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during the conference call. "Our message is simple: Let all children living in your district enroll in school."
The announcement is part of a broader effort by the administration to reshape the nation’s immigration laws in small ways through the president’s executive powers, even as Congress remains divided over a much farther-reaching legislative overhaul. Also this week, the administration announced it would pursue rule changes to allow the spouses of some foreign high-tech workers the right to work in the United States, as well.
The White House hopes the smaller moves will keep pressure on House Republicans to support a broader immigration reform plan sometime before Congress takes a summer recess in August. With pressure from advocates mounting on President Obama to stem deportations, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is overseeing a review of enforcement policies. Officials have not said when Johnson’s findings will be announced.