Immigrant parents, especially those who are struggling to get by, often find that America’s public school system is an answer to their needs—in a public school, their children can receive an education, no matter what the family’s financial status is, and that education can mean a brighter and more secure future for these children as they grow and learn. But now, immigration attorneys in New Jersey say, the actions of several local public schools threaten to jeopardize this luxury for those who may be in the country illegally, or who may not yet be citizens of the U.S.
Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed a lawsuit against a Morris County school for a policy that the ACLU-NJ claims is discriminatory against immigrant parents and children. School district officials enacted the policy last year, which requires parents seeking to enroll their children in the public school to present a valid form of government-issued photo ID. Although traditionally district schools ask for a proof of residency upon enrollment, the U.S. Constitution and the state regulations require all districts to provide equal access to education, and disallow discrimination based on a parent’s immigrant status.
The ACLU claims that the Butler County School district, which was the first to enforce this policy, is requiring forms of ID that can only be obtained with a Social Security number, or a valid immigration status. This requirement prevents parents who are not yet citizens from enrolling their children in public schools, because they cannot present the documentation needed. When the barred members of the Butler school district contacted the ACLU-NJ about this discrimination, the union found that several other school districts have followed suit, causing the ACLU-NJ to take legal action.
As a result of the union’s lawsuit, the Morris County school that started the trouble has agreed to stop requiring photo identification as part of their enrollment procedure. ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCiero said in a statement, “[This] agreement reaffirms the importance of our public schools in a healthy democracy and strong communities. These types of impermissible restrictions cause stress and fear in families. Thankfully, parents in Butler can breathe a sigh of relief this week…knowing that their children will not be blocked from the constitutional right to an education.”
Despite the positive outcome in Morris County, the union still has battles to fight. Only a few days ago, the ACLU-NJ followed up their victory in the Butler school district by filing seven additional lawsuits, all aimed at schools with similar policies. These schools have all been warned repeatedly by the ACLU-NJ that they are in violation of the U.S. Constitution and New Jersey laws regarding education, immigration, and discrimination, immigration attorneys in New Jersey say. The districts facing lawsuits are Audubon, Gloucester Township, and Somerdale Park in Camden County, North Brunswick, Old Bridge Township, and Perth Amboy in Middlesex County, and Galloway Township in Atlantic County.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our immigration attorneys want to ensure that all New Jersey residents receive equal rights and access to education in the state’s public school system. If you have questions about your district’s requirements, and how they may affect you, contact an HCK attorney today.