If ICE ever came to Georgia

Published by Imani Benjamin on

If ICE ever came to Georgia: Immigration and education

Illegal immigration is a national issue that’s been a major headline for years. Georgia has been less affected by ICE raids in recent years, unlike immigrant communities in Mississippi in August of this year. That doesn’t mean that an undocumented person is still free from the stress that comes with confusion and politics surrounding immigration. There are ways for families to feel some form of normality in education.

Under United States law, all children are guaranteed to receive a public school education. It’s their civil right living in America. There is no constitutional amendment that states anyone, legally or illegally residing in the United States, has the right to an education in this country. There are, however, a series of amendments, laws, and supreme court rulings that are meant to protect the rights of anyone seeking a public school education.

It can be tricky to enroll children of illegal immigrants in public schools. This is mainly due to either confusion on what documents are needed or the interference of school administration. Children of illegal immigrants, those not born on U.S. soil and not protected by the 14th Amendment, have rights concerning their education. 

Like Americans 16 and younger, they are entitled to receive a public school education from kindergarten through twelfth grade. A school cannot turn your child away or require citizenship for enrollment. It is illegal and unconstitutional for a school to deny enrollment or question a student’s immigration status before enrollment by way of Plyler v. Doe.

In 1975, Texas education legislation 21.031 was revised to deny children of illegal immigrants public education. Plyler v. Doe (1982) was filed on behalf of school aged Mexican children. The Court ultimately found that this legislation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but also found that “… there was no evidence that the exclusion of undocumented children was likely to improve the overall quality of education in Texas.” The Court found it unnecessary to punish children for something they couldn’t control by not educating them. 

Students’ education is therefore also protected by our Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment includes the Equal Protection Clause, which was used in cases like Brown v. Board of Education (1954) to fight against “separate but equal” states: “Nor shall any state… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. 

Neither the state government or school administration can prevent your child from an equal playing ground as children who are born from American citizens.

Nicole Colon-Rivera | Avant-Youth

There are laws that keep family information and immigration status private. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 guarantees that all families have the right to keep their information private unless released to transfer schools or for juvenile law enforcement. 

This Act keeps education records private. Only parents or legal guardians can release or access educational records related to the child such as home addresses or immigration statuses. 

FERPA prevents law enforcement agencies like ICE from obtaining the addresses or immigration status of enrolled students. Schools cannot give information to ICE without the permission of a guardian or the student, who must be a legal adult unless a subpoena has been issued. 

FERPA protects immigrant families’ rights to privacy, and the Office of Civil Rights assures students’ rights. According to the Office of Civil Rights, educational institutions that receive federal funding from the government cannot require families to present proof of citizenship and documentation to be enrolled in a public school. If a student is rejected because they cannot present documentation, it’s considered discrimination. 

There are legal guarantees that allow undocumented children access to public k-12 education. Post-secondary education does not have the same protections. College students in Georgia and around the country have to take extra steps to be enrolled. There are multiple two-year technical colleges and four-year public and private universities that accept students without proof of citizenship.  

However, according to the Georgia Board of Regents and SB 492, undocumented college students do not have access to in-state tuition. Georgia isn’t the only state to do this. Alabama and Colorado prohibit undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition as well. Although specific rules differ amongst colleges, the Georgia Board of Regents prevents undocumented students from attending popular universities like Georgia State and the University of Georgia. 

While it’s difficult for undocumented students to attend college in Georgia, it’s not impossible. This guide can help undocumented college students in their search for a secondary education.  

Here are some of the requirements for enrolling students with undocumented parents or students with detained parents:  

  • A student can be enrolled by multiple guardians: Parents, a kinship guardian, or a third party with power of attorney. The guardians, without legal guardianship, can enroll a student. 
    • The individual enrolling the student must be able to provide some sort of government photo ID such as a passport or driver’s license. Proof of custody is not required for a student to be enrolled in school. 
    •  An important aspect of this rule is the fact that whoever has physical custody of the child can enroll them in school. Physical custody, as opposed to legal custody, means that the child lives in the home of the primary caretaker. This can be an immediate relative like parents or kinship guardians like grandparents, a foster parent, a third party (aunt, uncle, cousin), or an individual with power of attorney. In most states, including Georgia, legal custody does not have to be proved and is illegal to ask/require. 
    • Since their parents entered without legal permission, children often do not have social security numbers, so parents must sign a statement of objection/waiver to enroll their student. 
      • Students who don’t have access to a social security number are given identification numbers provided by the school district.  

    A student cannot be denied public primary and secondary education in the United States. Despite the controversy of immigration, these protections also apply to children that are not living here legally. Regardless of their status, children shouldn’t be punished for what their parents have done by being denied the ability to thrive.   

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    Imani Benjamin

    Imani Benjamin

    Imani Benjamin-Wharton is a graduate from Georgia State University with a degree in English. She’s an aspiring novelist hoping to write the next great American novel. In her free time, she learns the secrets of survival from her favorite horror movies.

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