May 8 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration today warned local school districts not to block the enrollment of children of undocumented immigrants.
“Public school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in announcing updated enrollment guidelines for schools.
The guidance is part of an effort by the Obama administration to take action on immigration while legislation on the issue has stalled in Congress.
The Justice Department and Education Department clarified guidance issued in 2011 because they received complaints and questions about enrollment procedures, according to the Justice Department. In recent years, states and localities have passed laws to require proof of legal status for services, including public schooling.
“We continued to hear troubling reports of actions -- being taken by school districts around the country -- that have a chilling effect on student enrollment, raising barriers for undocumented children and children from immigrant families to receives the public education to which they are entitled,” Holder said.
Citing a 1982 Supreme Court ruling and federal law, the guidance letter and a fact sheet inform school officials that they may not prevent children from enrolling if they lack a birth certificate or Social Security number. Schools also may not bar a child from enrolling if a parent declines to provide the child’s race or ethnicity on forms, the documents say.
“The message here is clear: Let all children who live in your district enroll in your public schools,” Arne Duncan, the education secretary, said.
President Barack Obama is facing pressure from labor groups, advocates for immigrants and some Democrats in Congress to curtail deportations and ease the plight of those who are living and working in the U.S. illegally. Obama eased deportations before his re-election in 2012, exempting some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Republican opposition to legislation that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants has held up action on new immigration laws.
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