by Naeema Hernandez, Intern
National Women’s Law Center
Narratives of the U.S. immigration experience are well-documented. For many, the United States offers safety from hostile and life-threatening situations and the possibility of one day achieving the "American Dream." Many Latinos who migrate to the United States have hopes and aspirations of achieving the dream, and it is a modest one; it is a dream of being able to provide family members with a safe and secure home and access to free and adequate educational opportunities.
It is also well-established that the right to obtain a free public education in the United States includes all children and youth, even those who are undocumented or who have undocumented parents. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that denying children that have not been legally admitted into the United States the opportunity to obtain a K-12 public education is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Today, Arizona’s new Immigration Law, SB 1070—which allows and encourages police officers to demand and check documents from people they suspect to be undocumented—threatens the right of undocumented students to attend public schools. As an article in Education Week noted yesterday, students who are undocumented and/or who have undocumented family members are likely to experience anxiety about going to school because of fears they will be reported for deportation by school police officers. In the article, an elementary school superintendent in Phoenix was quoted as saying that his district has lost about 100 students since the legislation was signed in April.
The implementation of SB 1070 adds yet another factor—among the many discussed in last year’s NWLC and MALDEF report on the barriers to high school graduation faced by Latinas—contributing to the dropout crisis for Latino youth, further hindering their chances of achieving their dreams. This comes with devastating economic consequences not only for these students and their families, but also for our nation as a whole.