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State and Local Laws that Harass Undocumented Immigrants: It is Time for Public School Educators to Take a Stand


by Richard Fossey & Ron Wilhelm - January 08, 2008

It is time for public school educators to take a stand against state and local anti-immigration laws that are motivated by a desire to force undocumented immigrant families out of their homes and communities. Undocumented immigration is a federal issue that must be addressed comprehensively by Congress—not by state legislators and city council people who are attacking this issue in a piecemeal and often punitive fashion. Individually and through our professional organizations, let us make clear that we oppose such laws because of the harm they cause to children, and let us make our voices heard.

Americans are frustrated about undocumented immigration. Congress, mired in election-year politics, has been unable to pass comprehensive legislation on this issue. Increasingly, state and local politicians are addressing this problem with their own homegrown solutions. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (2007), more than 1,400 bills concerning immigration were introduced in state legislatures during the first six months of 2007. At the local level, municipal officials have gotten into the act, passing ordinances that make it illegal for landlords to rent their properties to people who cannot prove that they are legally in the country.  Judges have stopped enforcement of these local laws in two highly publicized instances—ordinances passed in Hazelton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas.


In 2007, Oklahoma passed what may be the harshest anti-immigration law passed by any state legislature. The new law, which went into effect last November, makes it a felony to harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant. A spouse or employer who drives an undocumented immigrant to work can be jailed for more than a year (Riggs, 2007). The statute also cuts off any welfare and entitlement benefits to undocumented immigrants and requires private employers to determine whether their workers are legally entitled to be in the United States.


A chief purpose of these state and local anti-immigration laws is to force undocumented immigrants into other jurisdictions, if not out of the country entirely. Oklahoma legislator Randy Terrill, who authored the Oklahoma law, put the matter plainly. “It would be fine with me,” Terrill said, “if we exported all illegal aliens to surrounding states” (Bazar, 2007). And a Texas organization has announced its goal to create a regulatory climate in Texas that is so hostile to undocumented immigrants that it will encourage “self deportation” (Citizens for Immigration Reform, 2008).


Although the evidence is still spotty, it appears that these state and local anti-immigration laws are forcing at least some undocumented immigrants and their families to flee their communities. The Oklahoma law, for example, seems to have pressured immigrant families to leave their homes for Texas and other states. And a local anti-immigration ordinance, passed by the city council of Farmers Branch, Texas, has apparently caused undocumented immigrant families to move to surrounding towns (Korosec, 2007).


State and local anti-immigration laws should concern public-school educators because these laws affect more than adult immigrants; they affect children as well. Of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, almost 5 million are children, with two thirds of these children being ten years old or younger (Capps, Castaneda, Chaudry, & Santos, 2007). Most of these children attend public schools. In fact, most of these children were born in the United States and are citizens. When state and local officials pass laws that force undocumented immigrants to leave their communities, these immigrants’ children leave as well, which means their schooling is disrupted. In addition, school districts receive state funding based on Average Daily Attendance in many states, and thus revenues shrink when children leave a district. In this manner,  educational service to all children in a community may be negatively impacted by anti-immigration laws.


As nearly every public educator knows, the children of undocumented immigrants have a constitutional right to attend public school that is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This was the clear holding of the United States Supreme Court in the famous Plyler v. Doe decision of 1982. In that case, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that permitted school districts to bar the children of illegal immigrants from attending school.  “If the State is to deny a discrete group of innocent children the free public education that it offers other children residing within its borders,” the Court said, “that denial must be justified by a showing that it furthers some substantial state interest.” In the Court’s view, the State of Texas was not able to make such a showing.


State and local anti-immigration laws force undocumented immigrants and their families to move from town to town and even state to state—that is what these laws are intended to do. Every child of an undocumented immigrant whose schooling is disrupted by such a law is deprived--at least temporarily--of the constitutional right to attend public school. All of us who work in public education should be concerned about that fact.


It is time for public school educators to take a stand against state and local anti-immigration laws that are motivated by a desire to force undocumented immigrant families out of their homes and communities. Undocumented immigration is a federal issue that must be addressed comprehensively by Congress—not by state legislators and city council people who are attacking this issue in a piecemeal and often punitive fashion. Individually and through our professional organizations, let us make clear that we oppose such laws because of the harm they cause to children, and let us make our voices heard.


References


Bazar, E. (2007, September 26). Immigrants moving out. USA Today. [


Capps, R., Castaneda, R. M., Chaudry, A., & Santos, R. (2007). Paying the price: The impact of immigration raids on America’s children. Washington, DC. Urban Institute and National Council of La Raza.


Citizens for Immigration Reform, Fort Worth Chapter (2008). Retrieved January 4, 2008 from http://texanstance.blogspot.com/


Korosec, T. (2007, January 12). State judge halts illegal immigrant rental ban; But Dallas suburb is already emptying, say business owners. Houston Chronicle.


National Conference of State Legislatures (2007). 2007 Enacted state legislation related to immigrants and immigration. Denver: Author.


Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982).


Riggs, A. (2007, October 28). Law aims in several directions: Main provisions of House Bill 1804. Tulsa World.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 08, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14876, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 2:32:56 AM

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About the Author
  • Richard Fossey
    University of North Texas
    E-mail Author
    RICHARD FOSSEY teaches education law and higher education law at the University of North Texas and directs the Texas Higher Education Law Conference at the University. He has a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and a doctorate in education policy from Harvard University. Prior to entering the field of higher education, he practiced education law in Alaska, representing school districts in Aleut, Athabaskan, and Inuit communities.
  • Ron Wilhelm
    University of North Texas

 
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