The right of undocumented children to receive an education was clearly established a long time ago. It was done through laws like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination in education, and through court decisions like Plyler v. Doe, which sets forth that public education is for everyone, no matter whether or not they are undocumented.
However, in many states and cities, from Fresno, California to Washington, D.C. and from Morris County, New Jersey to Palm Beach County, Florida, there have been cases in which school officials asked parents and children for identification in order to determine their immigration status. The Justice Department said it received at least 17 formal complaints about this in the past three years.
The emergence in recent years in states like Arizona and Georgia, among others, of immigration policies against undocumented workers, has created an environment in which people want to hurt even the children by depriving them of an education.
Therefore, we welcome the joint letter from the Education and Justice Departments, a reminder that federal law forbids excluding students because they lack a birth certificate or because they or their parents do not have a Social Security number.
People who question providing a public education to undocumented children do not understand that they themselves are hurting their city, county or state by not developing the potential of those children through education, instead of seeking to punish them and them parents by condemning the children to ignorance.
Foreign children who are brought up in the U.S. usually stay here, because this is their country. Therefore, in the long term, making a public investment to educate them is not potentially different from educating native-born children whose knowledge will contribute to the society where they live. Fortunately, laws and court decisions understand the principle of basic education as a human right that requires no documentation.