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New York State Knocks Down Enrollment Barriers for Unaccompanied Minors

The New York State Board of Regents approved an emergency order today to ensure students are able to enroll in the state's public schools regardless of their immigration status.

The new policy prohibits schools from asking about immigration status of students or their families during the enrollment process.

An investigation launched in October by the state education department and the state attorney general's office found evidence that some districts refused to enroll undocumented youths and unaccompanied minors if they were unable to produce documents demonstrating guardianship or residency in the state. The probe began in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland counties before expanding statewide.

"The Board of Regents has enacted these regulations to protect the right of each and every child to a free public education, no matter where they come from or what they look like," said Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents.

The order mandates that districts comply with Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that guarantees equal protection for undocumented children and that the immigration status of a student is irrelevant to that student's right to an elementary and secondary public education.

Some New York school districts have seen a large influx of unaccompanied minors in the wake of a surge of undocumented children and youth from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras over the U.S.-Mexico border that peaked earlier this summer. 

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the order will eliminate barriers faced by unaccompanied minors across the state.

"Schoolhouse doors must be open to every student in our increasingly diverse state, regardless of their immigration status—and there is simply no excuse for denying children that basic, constitutionally protected right," Schneiderman said.

 Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education also reminded school districts of their legal obligations when it comes to undocumented students.

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