The New York City Department of Education has told city schools to expect 2,350 undocumented child immigrants from Central America to be enrolled this year. Around 63,000 migrant children escaped violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and have either sought refuge or been caught trying to enter the United States. The decision to enroll these immigrants reflects the DOE’s commitment to providing education to every child. Although New York City public schools are already pressured with many students failing to meet academic standards, the DOE has made the correct decision to educate these children. In the wake of President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, the issue has become increasingly polarizing, but educating immigrant children should not be.
Education is a basic right that is too often interrupted when students must flee violence and corruption. As noted by the United Nations’ refugee agency, or UNHCR, education allows people with disrupted lives to “build a better future.” According to the UNHCR, about 60 percent of the recent influx of unaccompanied children entering the United States could qualify for refugee status, even if they were unable to use legal channels. Many of these migrant students have already faced domestic violence and organized crime in their home countries, as well as harsh treatment and the usual challenges of adapting to a new nation.
Critics of Obama’s executive action contend that undocumented immigrants are somehow being rewarded for breaking the rules. Anger toward their education unfairly pins the blame on the public education system. The DOE is simply taking a pragmatic approach: the undocumented kids are already here, and there is no reason to punitively deny them an education. The Fourteenth Amendment bars schools from discriminating against undocumented children — state schools violate the law if they ask for students’ or parents’ immigration status. DOE spokesperson Devora Kaye reaffirmed the department’s position. “The DOE believes that every child has a right to a great education,” she said. “We are committed to providing children who have escaped violence with the academic foundation and access to services that they need to establish a path to long-term achievement.”
While the announcement that the children will enroll in city schools has been met with vitriol, the anger is fundamentally misguided. New York City schools are acting appropriately — denying immigrant children an education based on their status is illegal. In placing blame on the DOE for accommodating the influx of children, critics negate the principle that no child should be deprived of an education. Regardless of opinions on immigration policy, passions must be tempered with pragmatism. For better or worse, these children are now in this country — it defies common sense to deny them an education.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 24 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]