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New York Schools Will Remove Enrollment Obstacles for Immigrants

New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced Thursday that 20 school districts have agreed to develop new enrollment policies after investigations unearthed a pattern of illegal enrollment requirements, including schools that made students or their guardians present Social Security cards.

A joint investigation by the New York state education department and attorney general's office found the districts, despite repeated warnings from federal and state law enforcement agencies, continued to bar children from enrolling based solely on their immigration status. In December, the New York State Board of Regents approved an emergency order that prohibits schools from asking about immigration status of students or their families during the enrollment process.

"Schoolhouse doors must be open to all students in our diverse state, regardless of their immigration status," Schneiderman said in a statement. "More than 30 years after the Supreme Court guaranteed a free public education for undocumented children, we must do everything we can to uphold the law and ensure equal access for all our students."

While school districts are allowed to ask for proof of residency to ensure that students are enrolled in the same districts where they live, administrators are barred from asking about the immigration status of children or their parents for enrollment purposes.

New York state officials launched the joint investigation in October, finding evidence that districts refused to enroll undocumented youths and unaccompanied minors if they were unable to produce documents demonstrating guardianship or residency in the state. The districts, which span fourteen different counties across the state, are the Amherst, Carthage, Cheektowaga, Cuba Rushford, Dryden, Gates Chili, Greenville, Hilton, Homer, Lyme, Manchester-Shortsville, Oneida, Penfield, Pittsford, Port Jervis, Spencerport, Sullivan West, Vestal, Watertown and Williamson school districts.

The investigation's findings came after last year's surge in the number of unaccompanied minors caught along the U.S.-Mexico border after fleeing violence in Central America.

Unaccompanied minors living in the United States are legally allowed to attend public schools while they undergo immigration court proceedings but, as the number of recently arrived undocumented students began to rise, so too did the complaints of discrimination in school enrollment.

Last spring, the federal education department reminded school districts that they are required to enroll all students. In a guidance co-signed by the Department of Justice, DOE officials addressed complaints of discriminatory enrollment practices.

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