Opinion

The Unrecognized Benefits of Including Immigrants in Schools

By NEHA BHARDWAJ
Staff Writer

It should come as no surprise that the United States has the highest immigrant population in the world, with over 44 million foreign-born residents. Moreover, about a quarter of those immigrants – a whopping 10.5 million people – are illegal or undocumented, originating largely from Mexico (Pew Research). This high concentration of illegal immigrants has inevitably raised a slew of increasingly divisive legal and social predicaments. 

By and large, the public has turned a blind eye to most of the injustices perpetrated against these immigrants, but one particular grievance has caught ubiquitous attention: the issue of whether children of undocumented immigrants should be permitted in public schools. As is to be expected, many of the people taking severely polarized stances in this debate are mere automatons, blindly consuming pretty words from politicians and regurgitating them in family arguments and Twitter wars. However, if we examine the facts on both sides of this complex debate, it becomes abundantly clear that the children of undocumented immigrants should be allowed to attend public schools.

Those arguing the converse side consistently raise the question: why should the rest of us be expected to pay for their children to attend public schools? We can see this concern reflected in the broader push by President Trump’s advisors, most notably Stephen Miller, to limit undocumented immigrants’ access to publicly funded services. For instance, in August, the White House announced a new policy that blocks immigrants from obtaining legal residence if they have used government benefits, such as food stamps (TIME). 

In some ways, this argument carries some weight. Providing services to more people without receiving a proportional increase in tax revenue could potentially put a strain on public resources. According to Pew Research and the U.S. Census Bureau, the cost per pupil in public and private schooling is around $12,000, and with 1.3% of total K-12 enrollment being comprised of illegal residents, we can be certain that this cost will add up. 

However, such an argument is not only morally unsound, but myopic as well – an assertion that is best supported by the critical 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, which provides both compelling ethical considerations and noteworthy legal precedent. The court’s ruling declared that, “denying migrant children an education would ‘foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our nation’ and that punishing them for their parents’ actions ‘does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice’” (TIME). In simpler words, the court’s ruling affirmed the simplest, most fundamental, yet most overlooked fact of the matter: illegal immigrants and their children are people, “in any ordinary sense of the term,” and are thus entitled to equal Fourteenth Amendment protections (Oyez).

The court’s words still ring true in the hearts of some immigration activists today, nearly thirty years later, as Miller and his team continue to push for legislation that would deny undocumented children an education. Frank Sharry, head of an immigration advocacy group called America’s Voice, stated, “such a radical policy change would be unlawful, unacceptable and un-American. The notion that we should punish little kids who go to school and pledge allegiance to our flag because Trump and Miller want to make America white again is incredibly cruel, dark and sinister.” 

Obviously, we cannot deny the monetary cost of incorporating undocumented immigrants into our public schooling system. However, we need only look to the numerous failed attempts at limiting enrollment of illegal residents in public schools to see that there is clearly a glaring flaw in the reasoning of Miller and others.

Beyond the ruling of Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. saw similar attempts in 1996 and 2014 come to naught as well, with policymakers and government officials repeatedly asserting that public schools are obligated to admit students regardless of immigration status, race, color, or national origin. In light of this repeated pushback against such legislation, it is clear that all this over-inflated talk of hurting legal residents with unjust taxation belies the true core of the issue. This is, above all else, a matter of human rights, and it must be treated as such. 

Not only would excluding these children from schools be an ignominious act that violates our very principles, but it would also be doing a substantial disservice to the nation at large. As the Supreme Court posited in their ruling of Plyler v. Doe, denying these children an education would in turn deny the U.S. of the potential benefits they could offer in the future as educated residents and workers. Second-generation immigrants have been the source of countless burgeoning inventions, companies, and industries in America, and we owe untold amounts of economic success to them.

Studies have shown that, “the children of immigrants are more likely to complete college, and less likely to live in poverty, than native-born Americans (and are thus likely to make positive fiscal contributions)…. [E]ach additional immigrant has a long-term fiscal contribution of $173,000–$259,000,” over the course of their lifetime (Pacific Standard). Moreover, they undeniably add to the cultural melting pot for which we as Americans pride ourselves. Thus, when we look at this debate from an ethical, logical, and future-minded standpoint, there is really only one right answer.

If we wish to maintain our fundamental American principles and secure a better future for our nation, we must allow children of undocumented immigrants in public schools. 

 

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