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Lawmaker's Call to Screen ELLs for Deportation Draws Condemnation

Some Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma want to round up the state's English-language-learner students in K-12 schools to be screened for deportation—a move that would violate federal law.

According to Tulsa's News 9, state Rep. Mike Ritze of Tulsa says the newly formed Republican Platform Caucus would like to identify the 80,000-plus ELL students and "then turn them over to ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to see if they are citizens."

The caucus believes that rounding up the students could save the state up to $60 million. It's unclear how they reached that dollar amount.

The proposal for mass deportation is part of a plan to fix the state's $878 million budget shortfall. While explaining the plan, Ritze questioned whether the state has to educate undocumented students.

It does.

The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe declared that children are entitled to receive a free public K-12 education in the United States regardless of their immigration status. 

The threat of exposing the immigration status of a family member could also discourage some students from enrolling in school, advocates say.

The U.S. departments of Justice and Education have issued guidance on this topic in recent years, reminding school districts to refrain from using policies and practices that discourage students from enrolling in school because they, or their parents, may not have legal immigration status. But Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told Education Week that defiance of state and federal statutes could happen more frequently during the Trump administration, which has taken a hardline on immigration.

News 9 reports that the proposal has been widely panned, and criticized as racial profiling. State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister knocked the plan in a series of posts on Twitter.

Education Week visited Tulsa in 2016 to examine the success of free pre-kindergarten classes in Tulsa, the city Ritze represents, and how the district's method of building up students' vocabulary from an early age has allowed English-language learners to thrive.

Related Stories and Video

Teaching America's English-Language Learners: A Special Report

Educators and Advocates Brace for Harsher Stance on Immigration Under Trump

How Much Can Schools Protect Undocumented Students?

Top Democrats Tell Devos: Immigrant Student Rights Must Be Protected

Building ELLs' Early Literacy is Crucial

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