Serving and Supporting Immigrant Students: Information for Schools

The following information outlines what schools need to know about serving students who are immigrants or children of immigrants. Recommended resources and updates regarding changing immigration policies are also available below. We will continue to add updates as they become available.

For additional information, see Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff from Teaching Tolerance.


FAQs

Does immigration status affect whether students can enroll in U.S. public schools?

No. Every child has a constitutional right to a free public education, regardless of his/her immigration status or parents' immigration status.

Can schools ask about a student's immigration status during enrollment?

No. Public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of their immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.

Which documents are schools allowed to request during enrollment?

Schools are allowed to request proof of residency in the school district and proof of age. However, the district may not prevent or discourage a child from enrolling based on the documentation presented, such as a foreign birth certificate. For detailed information on what is and is not acceptable, see this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the following video interview with immigration attorney Roger Rosenthal. (The transcript of this interview is also available.)

Roger Rosenthal: FAQ on Enrolling Immigrant Students

Can immigration enforcement take place in schools?

No. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security limits immigration enforcement from taking place at "sensitive locations." These include schools, licensed day cares, school bus stops, colleges and universities, educational programs, medical treatment facilities, places of worships, religious or civil ceremonies such as funerals and weddings, and during public demonstrations. See more in this fact sheet prepared by the U.S. Department of Education and learn more about the impact of immigration enforcement on children from this resource page from Teaching Tolerance.

Note: Teaching Tolerance advises that "the sensitive locations policy memorandum may be reversed. School leaders should stay informed about possible changes."

Do schools report student information to immigration?

From Illinois Legal Aid Online: No. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not allow schools to turn over a student’s file to federal immigration agents. The school can turn the file over if a parent consents and gives them permission or if the information does not contain the student’s immigration status. School officials are non-reporters. They are not required to report undocumented immigrants to federal agents. Any parent or guardian can ask for their child's school for information or their student records. Your immigration status or the immigration status of your child does not matter. (See more from Teaching Tolerance.)

How many children live in "mixed-status" households?

According to Teaching Tolerance, 4.1 million U.S.-born children live with at least one parent or family member who is undocumented. Children may not know their own immigration status or the status of their parents, siblings, and relatives.  It is possible for a child who is documented to have a sibling who is undocumented, and vice versa. A child who is born in the U.S. may have one or two parents who are undocumented.


Recommended Resources

Laws and Policies: Immigrant Students in U.S. Schools

Plyler vs. Doe: A Landmark Supreme Court Case

Plyler vs. Doe is the court case that guaranteed undocumented students a right to a free public education in U.S. schools. Learn more from the following fact sheets and from our interview with Attorney Roger Rosenthal.

School and District Responses

Immigration Updates

Serving ELLs & Immigrant Students

Making Students Feel Welcome