U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stirred up controversy earlier this week when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student or family member should be reported to authorities.
After prepared remarks to the House Education and the Workforce Committee on May 22, Ms. DeVos answered questions from committee members, including Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Democrat of New York. Mr. Espaillat, who used to be an undocumented immigrant himself, asked if principals and teachers should report undocumented students or their family members to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Sir, I think that’s a school decision; it’s a local community decision,” Ms. DeVos said, adding that the United States is “a nation of laws and a compassionate people.”
“Our mission as Catholic educators goes beyond the law. Everyone is endowed with human rights, and that has nothing to do with legal status.”
Ms. DeVos alluded to Plyler v. Doe, insofar as the 1982 Supreme Court decision has protected undocumented students access to K-12 education. Yet Dale McDonald P.B.V.M., the director of public policy for the National Catholic Educational Association, said the decision is also interpreted to mean a child’s education should not be impeded. “Which means you don’t deal with ICE,” she told America. ICE has a policy to generally avoid conducting immigration enforcement operations in schools, places of worship and health care facilities.
“Our mission as Catholic educators goes beyond the law,” she said. “Everyone is endowed with human rights, and that has nothing to do with legal status.”
Sister McDonald said Catholic schools should welcome kids into a “Christian community that’s characterized with love and respect.” Catholic schools, she said, “foster an appreciation of diversity so that every child can reach his or her potential.”
“No one needs immigration papers to get into heaven. It’s home for all of us. We’re all trying to get there and to get our kids there.”
But the N.C.E.A. does not set a national policy in the matter. In each diocese, the local Catholic school system would have its own set of rules, under the authority of the local bishop. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, schools do not inquire about the immigration status of students of family members.
Nevertheless, Sister McDonald noted there has been more fear in school communities, especially after the Trump administration announced it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, an Obama administration policy, protects undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation and gives them permission to work.
“Kids were gone from school,” Sister McDonald said. “Families were afraid. Parents didn’t want to present themselves at times. We pray there’s a just resolution to help those people whose lives are in turmoil.”
Catholic schools observe the law but see things more from a faith perspective, she said. They see students as brothers and sisters and seek to create a more welcoming environment.
“No one needs immigration papers to get into heaven,” she said. “It’s home for all of us. We’re all trying to get there and to get our kids there.”