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ACLU settles lawsuits with five N.J. schools over ID requirements

A student in the Accelerating Preliterate English Language Learners class looks over a worksheet aimed at teaching basic introductions in English. The Supreme Court has ruled that U.SA. schools have an obligation to educate all students regardless of their immigration status. (Emily Varisco/AP Photo)

A student in the Accelerating Preliterate English Language Learners class looks over a worksheet aimed at teaching basic introductions in English. The Supreme Court has ruled that U.SA. schools have an obligation to educate all students regardless of their immigration status. (Emily Varisco/AP Photo)

The American Civil Liberties Union and five New Jersey schools have settled a dispute over how the schools asked  parents of prospective students for identification when enrolling their children.

The children of immigrants in the U.S. illegally are entitled to a public education, but the ACLU said that the schools were asking parents for identification that people without a Social Security number or valid immigration status would be unable to get.

“If an undocumented person looks online and sees, ‘these are the requirements and I can’t meet them,’ they will be chilled from trying to enter their child in school,” said Alexander Shalom, a senior attorney for the ACLU-NJ. “That is exactly what the [U.S.] Constitution and what state law forbid.”

The group added that it had found no evidence that any of the five schools had turned away immigrant students trying to enroll.

Shalom said the group began surveying N.J. schools a decade ago to ensure that they did not have burdensome ID requirements. It came years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not deny a public education to children who are in the country illegally.

Joanne Gottesman, director of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at Rutgers Law School in Camden, said that a public education and emergency medical care are among the only public benefits afforded immigrants in the country illegally.

“Undocumented people are not really eligible for any of the other kinds of benefits that we think of, you know, food stamps or other kinds of welfare,” said Gottesman.

Last month, the ACLU sued the Port Republic School District in Atlantic County; the Fair Lawn School District in Bergen County; the Jamesburg School District and Spotswood School District in Middlesex County; and the Jersey City Global Charter School in Hudson County.

John Davis, superintendent of the Port Republic School District, said the ACLU’s lawsuit was unnecessary and that the district was in compliance with state Department of Education guidelines.

“The board still believes this litigation could have been avoided by a simple phone call, as our website was outdated and did not represent what we request when parents seek to enroll students in our school,” said Davis. But “the board did not want to engage in lengthy and protracted litigation when it represents such a small community with severely limited taxpayer dollars.”

Shalom said the ACLU plans to send letters to several dozen additional school districts in the state whose identification requirements may also mislead immigrant parents.

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