A recent article published in the Kansas City Star stimulated my interest for a discourse. I found the article especially relevant, as presently, a wide segment of the United States population vehemently opposes undocumented aliens in the country. The article’s author reported that an immigration bill proposal sponsored by State Senator Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican, would require public schools in Missouri to verify the immigration status of students. A provision of the proposed bill stipulates that all public schools document the immigration status of students in order to authenticate that they are lawful aliens. Another segment of the bill proposes that schools compile a report on students’ immigration status for classification purposes and to report the amount of students enrolled in English as a second language to the State Board of Education.
The proposed bill also requires that schools estimate the effect of educating students who are not citizens of the United States on the quality of education received by students who are citizens. Additionally, a provision of the bill permits law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of persons at a stop without probable cause and provides permission to the state to create a misdemeanor classification for immigrants who are unable to produce identification at the time of a stop.
The proposal of the bill is an invidious attempt at encroaching on the rights of immigrant children in public schools, and in a parallel vein, has deleterious significances for immigrant families. The implication of this bill is clear; it will result in the unnecessary harassment of immigrant children, subjecting them to unequal treatment and creating a classification doctrine that would lead to discrimination and fear amongst this population. The bill proposal also has the potential to subject documented students to arbitrary searches, investigations, and harassment by school officials. This is a plausible prediction, being that there is not an ideal avenue of determining a student’s immigration status whereby only illegal immigrant students are quarantined for document verification. Additionally, the same logic is applied to stop searches; even though law enforcement officers have a wide discretion while conducting stops and investigations, one cannot evade the inevitable occurrence of racial profiling as a result of an officer capriciously requesting persons to produce their immigration documents. I infer the possibility of racial profiling, as the determination of an officer to check a person’s immigration documents has to be based on a rationale—and that rationale will more than likely rest on the outward characteristics of that individual.
The only means of circumventing racial profiling would be for officers to request document verification of all persons they stop, and such an assumptions lies on tenuous reasoning and preposterousness. Hence, the Missouri bill proposal signifies that an officer may stop and search an individual based on his or her observed race and ethnicity— and the primary target of this profiling would be Hispanics; as of 2009, over 200,000 Hispanics reside in Missouri (PEW Hispanic Center, 2009). It is here that the 14th Amendment becomes crucial, as if this bill succeeds, this group and other immigrant populations will encounter discriminatory treatment by law enforcement officials. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection of the law for all persons within their jurisdiction. Therefore, discriminatory targeting of undocumented students and/or immigrant persons would infringe on an individual’s 14th Amendment rights to equality.
There have been other similar bill proposals that have been raised in other states, particularly Arizona, Texas, and Alabama, and the US Department of Justice has already challenged some of these bills’ constitutionality. The most prominent example of an overturn of a similar bill is in the case of Plyer v Doe (1982), in which the majority opinion ruled that undocumented immigrant students must be allowed a public education (from kindergarten through 12th grades) equal to US citizens and permanent residents. This issue was brought to court when the state of Texas required local school districts to prohibit access to education to undocumented children and to withhold state funding to children not legally admitted in the United States. This landmark case remains precedent and has vital significance for the assurance of equal rights to immigrant children by prohibiting certain school practices that would engender discrimination.
Being that any decisions made by the SCOTUS become the supreme law of the land, the Missouri bill proposal, if it comes to fruition, cannot bar access of education to illegal children. However, the state can inject despondency and discomfort in the lives of these children through certain legislations that would weaken their rights without blatantly violating the Plyer decision. If the Missouri bill proposal takes effect, undocumented students and their parents would encounter fear. Being that at least one of these children’s parents may be undocumented, lack of knowledge of U.S. laws would possibly cause parents to suspend their children’s education (pulling them out of school), out of fear of these parents being prosecuted due to their status.
The effect of this is consequential, as education plays a vital role in human capital and largely determines one’s career attainment and earning potential. According to Passel and Cohn (2009), Senior Demographers at the PEW Hispanic Center, out of the 11.9 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 76% are of Hispanic origin, and roughly 6.8 million documented and undocumented immigrant students are enrolled in elementary and high schools. Being that such a sizeable portion of immigrant children are in the nation’s school system, care should be taken in ensuring equal access of education to these children without creating any situation that would infringe on their rights, single them out, or make it unbearable for any child to remain in school. It is clear by statistical evidence that immigrant children have a higher rate of ending high school prematurely than native born children. For example, immigrant Latinos are more likely to drop out of school than native born Latinos 52% in comparison to 25% respectively (PEW Hispanic Center, 2010). Because these immigrant children are already at a high risk of prematurely ending their school career; it is nonsensical to create any further constitutional restraints that would impede or affect their educational success, as the effects of doing has dire consequences for employment prospects and criminal engagement. For example, studies, including Lochner and Moretti (2001) have repeatedly demonstrated the effect of education on crime. From their study of prison inmates, arrest data, and self-reports, the authors have asserted that high school graduation and arrest rates are negatively correlated; likewise, participation in criminal activity is positively correlated with high school dropout rates.
Therefore, being that education has an impact on future engagement in crime and employment opportunities, the possible effects of the Missouri bill proposal would serve to injure undocumented students’ educational attainments and future prospects of social mobility. If the Missouri bill proposal (if enacted) causes even one child to be removed from the school setting, the suspension of that child’s education is “one child too much”. Senator Kraus needs to refocus his energy on ways to improve the education of children in the Missouri school districts instead of lobbying for a proposal that would achieve the opposite of what the SCOTUS intended and the Constitution guaranteed.
Hancock, J. (2012, January 12). Proposal would require missouri schools to verify
students’ immigration status. The Kansas City Star. Retrived from http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/12/3366206/proposal-would-require-missouri.html
Plyer v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982).
Passel, J.S., & Cohn, D. (2009). A portrait of unauthorized immigrants in the united states. PEW Hispanic Center.
Fry, R. (2010). Hispanics, high school drop outs and the GED. PEW Hispanic Center.
Lochner, L., & Moretti E. (2001). The effect of education on crime: Evidence from prison inmates, arrests, and self-reports. [No. 8605]. NBER Working Paper Series