ACLU-NJ Sues School Districts for Asking About Immigration Status

Attorney argues that districts illegally request photo licenses or state ID cards to prevent students from registering for schools

kid with flag
A decade ago, the ACLU-New Jersey first started surveying the state’s public school districts regarding what they asked about children’s immigration status. Any such request violates state and federal law and regulations dating back at least 30 years.

The picture wasn’t pretty: More than 130 districts were called out for illegal practices and policies — and many quickly fixed their shortcomings.

Ten years later, the problems have persisted, even as the rights and plights of immigrant families have become front-page news. A number of New Jersey schools are still asking the wrong questions or requesting the wrong documents.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey yesterday announced it had filed suit against 11 districts and a charter school for a variety of obstacles they had thrown up to prevent immigrant families from registering their children for school, most commonly requiring photo licenses or state identification cards, neither of which can be legally requested.

An ongoing problem

“Based on the numbers, it is clearly not getting better,” said Elyla Huertas, an attorney at ACLU–NJ. “We are pursuing more cases than we ever have before. It’s the same threshold, and we have found more than ever.”

The ACLU-NJ first surveyed New Jersey school districts in 2008 and again in 2014.

In 2016, the ACLU took the matter to court, filing the first suits against districts for what were restrictive practices and policies. In each case, the districts quickly settled by correcting their procedures, most within a week and none going to trial.

The ACLU said concerning the suits announced yesterday that they were the “most problematic and illegal policies,” but there were others that also had policies that appeared to be in violation of state guidelines.

Under those guidelines, schools can only inquire about a student’s age, residency, and immunizations. When trying to establish residency, they cannot require specific documentation but have to look at “the totality of documents parents can provide.”

“Every day these policies are in place, we risk chilling the rights of immigrant parents and immigrant children,” said Huertas.

“Under the New Jersey constitution, all students, regardless of their status, are guaranteed a thorough and efficient education,” she said yesterday.

The 12 districts facing lawsuits were the following:

  • Northern Valley Regional High School District (Bergen County)
  • Bellmawr School District (Camden County)
  • Sterling Regional High School District (Camden County)
  • Winslow Township School District (Camden County)
  • East Orange Community Charter School (Essex County)
  • West New York School District (Hudson County)
  • Sea Girt School District (Monmouth County)
  • Harding Township School District (Morris County)
  • Watchung Hills Regional High School District (Somerset County)
  • Montague School District (Sussex County)
  • Cranford School District (Union County)
  • Allamuchy School District (Warren County)