ACLU Sues NJ Schools For Allegedly Discriminating Against Illegal Immigrants

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is suing five public school systems in the state for what is says is unlawful discrimination against illegal immigrants.

According to the ACLU, the school systems — four public school districts and one charter school —  have put up unwarranted hurdles to enrollment for illegal immigrants and the children of illegal immigrants. 

The source of the discrimination, the ACLU says, is the fact that all five school systems require parents to provide either a state ID or driver’s license — documents not issued to illegal immigrants — to enroll their children. 

In five separate lawsuits filed this week, the ACLU requested the court declare the driver’s license and state ID requirement unconstitutional and block the school districts from continuing the policy. Additionally, the ACLU says it is calling on the Department of Education to monitor the school districts for potential further violations.

“The ACLU of New Jersey can’t play a perpetual game of whack-a-mole with New Jersey school districts, and we shouldn’t have to,” ACLU-NJ senior staff attorney Alexander Shalom said in a statement. “It’s the job of the Department of Education to make sure New Jersey school districts are following the Constitution, and they must take that duty seriously. The law is clear: schools cannot discriminate, and they should be held accountable when they do.”

The ACLU’s case focuses heavily on a 1982 Supreme Court decision,  Plyler v. Doe, in which the court held that states could not deny children residing within its borders access to public education.

In recent years the Obama administration has been more aggressive in its efforts to ensure that no illegal immigrant student is left behind. In 2014, the Departments of Education and the Department of Justice penned a joint letter to school districts across the country reiterating the policy.

“To comply with these Federal civil rights laws, as well as the mandates of the Supreme Court, you must ensure that you do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and that students are not barred from enrolling in public schools at the elementary and secondary level on the basis of their own citizenship or immigration status or that of their parents or guardians,” the letter read in part.

The five school systems named in the ACLU’s suits are Fair Lawn School District in Bergen County, Jersey City Global Charter School in Hudson County, Jamesburg School District and Spotswood School District  in Middlesex County, and Port Republic School District in Atlantic County.

Caroline May