Education Secretary Betsy DeVos set off a firestorm in her recent testimony before the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Her supposedly unpardonable offense? Saying that individual schools can decide whether to report illegal alien students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). From the reaction that common-sense statement stirred up, you might think she was not only incorrect but some kind of monster. But she’s absolutely right, although perhaps she might not even have gone far enough.
She didn’t say they should, let alone that they have to. She simply said, “[t]hat’s a school decision. It’s a local community decision.” And within an instant, the illegal-alien lobby pounced on her.
They insisted she was just so obviously factually wrong, and of course, that to even say such a thing was so fiendishly wicked that she should resign immediately. The ACLU’s Lorella Praeli sweepingly proclaimed that “[a]ny school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution” while Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) ranted she was using children as “cannon fodder.”
Except despite their utterly predictable rhetoric of moral outrage, it’s they, not she, who are just plain wrong about the actual law on the subject.
In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe held (in a 5-4 opinion by arch-liberal Justice William Brennan) that the State of Texas couldn’t withhold funds to local school districts to keep illegal aliens from enrolling as students at its K-12 schools. The Court’s reasoning was that denying illegal alien students a benefit (free public education) that Texas provided to the rest of the public violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, because the state hadn’t proven “it further[ed]some substantial state interest.” They left the door open to the possibility that such interests could be proven in future cases.
But the Supreme Court never said school officials couldn’t report illegal aliens, students or otherwise, to immigration authorities. That simply wasn’t what the case was about: indeed, the Court quite frequently noted that the students were still illegal aliens who are subject to potential deportation. Reporting an illegal alien student to ICE doesn’t deny them a “benefit” any more than does reporting a student who commits a crime to the local police.
In their animosity toward Secretary DeVos and toward the Trump administration’s commitment to enforcing our immigration laws, opponents have turned the Plyler case into a totem, standing not for what it actually held, but for the broader and absurd idea that public schools are “immigration safe zones” and thus that illegal aliens who happen to be students are untouchable.
Betsy DeVos was right, and she should be commended for her honesty and courage. Schools absolutely can report illegal alien students to ICE.