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Know Your Rights: Immigrant Students and Families

June 2017 | Every student in New York City has the right to attend public school, regardless of immigration status. Following recent immigration-related activities by the federal government, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) issued several letters to families reiterating this commitment. The DOE has also provided additional guidance for principals on responding to any requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for access to schools or student records. 

Families and school staff should know that: 

  • School staff cannot ask students or parents about immigration status. Even if a student or his/her parents are undocumented, the student still has the right to receive all school services, including special education supports and services. 
     
  • ICE officers are not permitted to enter schools, except when absolutely required by law (they must have a judicial warrant in all but rare emergency circumstances). If an ICE officer goes to a school for immigration enforcement purposes, he/she must wait outside of the building while the principal consults with DOE lawyers. 
     
  • The DOE will not release information from student records to immigration officers unless absolutely required by law. Undocumented parents and students have all the same rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as do other families. 
     
  • Families should update school records (the "Blue Card") to ensure that there is up-to-date contact information on file for trusted adults who can pick up a child from school, in the event that the primary parent/guardian is detained or deported.
     

It also is important to note that federal policy [PDF] currently limits immigration enforcement actions at sensitive locations, which include schools, hospitals, and places of worship.

Translations of the DOE’s letter and the complete guidance document, along with additional resources on immigration enforcement, are available at http://schools.nyc.gov/SupportingAllStudents/.

Other Helpful Resources

State Guidance

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia recently released new guidance reminding school districts of their duty to uphold the rights of immigrant students as well as guidance on combatting harassment and discrimination. These documents have been translated into 20 languages (Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese, French, Fulani, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Karen, Khmer, Nepali, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, and Wolof). 

AFC Publications

  • AFC’s Know Your Rights guidebook provides information on the rights of immigrant students and families in the New York City public schools; it’s available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu [PDF]. See pages 20-21 of the guide for a list of organizations which provide free or low-cost immigration assistance. Some of these organizations are conducting free legal clinics around the city; contact them directly for more information.
     
  • Advocates for Children also has a fact sheet on bullying, harassment, and discrimination based on race, national origin, immigration status, or religion. The fact sheet, which explains DOE policy and what parents can do if their children experience bullying or discrimination,  is available in  ArabicBengaliChineseEnglishFrenchHaitian CreoleRussianSpanish, and Urdu [PDF].

  • In May 2017, Advocates for Children, the Education Trust–New York, the New York Immigration Coalition, and the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families released a policy report, Safe Havens: Protecting and Supporting New York State’s Immigrant Students, which provides a roadmap for steps that New York State and district leaders should take to ensure that immigrant students and their families feel safe and supported by public schools.

Immigration-Related Resources from Other Organizations

  • The Legal Aid Society has created a fact sheet explaining recent executive orders on immigration, as well as two fact sheets with information on advance planning in case of parental detention, deportation, or other immigration-related emergency. These fact sheets are available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu.

  • Long Island Wins also provides an explanation of how a non-citizen parent can designate a close relative or friend to make school and limited health care decisions for their children (called "Designation of a Person in Parental Relation").

  • The New York Immigration Coalition has compiled a short list of tips for educators and school staff on supporting undocumented students and families, a Know Your Rights Community Toolkit (available in Chinese, English, Haitian Creole, and Spanish), and a list of organizations [PDF] serving immigrant communities in each of the five boroughs.

  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Immigration Law Center, MALDEF, and the national teachers' unions recently presented a webinar on the educational rights of immigrant children in the United States. The slide deck, which includes links to additional resources, is available in both English [PDF] and Spanish [PDF].

  • To learn more about Plyler v. Doe, the 1982 case in which the Supreme Court held that all children in the United States have the right to attend school regardless of immigration status, see the American Immigration Council's fact sheet.

  • The New York City Council has a webpage with resources for the City’s immigrant communities.