In a close to five-minute exchange Tuesday with Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) during a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that local schools and communities are the ones who decide whether to report an undocumented student to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Sir, I think that’s a school decision, it’s a local community decision,” DeVos said. “We have laws, and we also are compassionate. And I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this.”
Thee following is the full clip which shows Espaillat trying to get DeVos to give a simple yes or no answer. He couldn’t.
As expected, DeVos’ comments are getting pounced. Here is a statement from MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel:
“Like so many in this administration, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos desperately needs competent legal advice; her testimony today about reporting students to ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] stems either from an astounding ignorance of the law or from an insupportable unwillingness to accurately advise local school districts. Either of these indicates a severe dereliction of duty.
“The United States Supreme Court determined this issue over 35 years ago, In Plyler v. Doe, a case in which MALDEF represented the plaintiffs, the Court determined in 1982 that the Constitution requires all public schools to provide a free public education, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, to every child, regardless of immigration status. Any public school or school district that denies an education to any undocumented child – whether by refusing to enroll, by limiting access to the programs and benefits provided to other students, or by reporting a child to ICE – has violated the United States Constitution.
MALDEF stands ready to hold accountable through legal challenge anyone in public education who attempts to report a student to ICE.
DeVos should have her department issue an immediate clarification that emphasizes the holding in Plyler. Otherwise, she should resign forthwith for abject incompetence.”
For more about Plyler v. Doe, click here. Because do we really have to prove that DeVos’ comments were ignorant and appalling? Do we?
On Wednesday afternoon, Espaillat issued this statement:
If a principal or a teacher finds out that a certain child is undocumented, or his or her family members are undocumented, we MUST do whatever it takes to ensure the student’s safety and protection from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, especially in a learning environment and within our nation’s educational system. I am outraged and highly concerned following comments made by Secretary Betsy DeVos during yesterday’s Education and the Workforce Committee hearing.
Protecting the rights of students should be a top priority and fundamental pillar of our system, and the U.S. Department of Education must do all that it can to promote and ensure federal protections for all students. When this doesn’t happen, we fail and our country suffers. Following her testimony, one thing is very clear to me, and that is Sec. Betsy DeVos is unqualified to lead the U.S. Department of Education, and her reckless statements regarding undocumented youth, not only conflict with the law, but will lead to fear and intimidation among immigrant students across the country.
This is why I will continue my fight to ensure equality, fairness and opportunity for our students, immigrant youth, and the future of our nation.