May 24, 2018, 2:42 PM ET

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos under fire for saying schools can report undocumented students

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos set off a furor over comments she made to members of Congress suggesting that schools should decide whether or not to report undocumented students and their families to federal immigration authorities.

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The head of the Education Department shifted the responsibility of reporting undocumented students to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to principals and teachers when she said on Tuesday, "it's a local community decision."

"I think that is — that is a school decision," DeVos said during her testimony before the House Education and Workforce Committee after Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., pressed her on the issue of undocumented students. "It's a local community decision and again I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate and I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this."

Espaillat immediately rebuked the secretary's statement, stressing that immigration policies are defined and executed by the federal government, not by communities.

"Let me just remind Madam Chair that immigration law is federal law," he said. "It's not a local law. It's not governed by a municipality."

"You cannot have immigration law for one state be different for another state and it applies to everybody across the country," he added.

PHOTO: Students head to a school bus as Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) ICE agents prepare to arrest a fellow student and suspected MS-13 gang member at a nearby home, March 29, 2018 in Brentwood, New York.John Moore/Getty Images, FILE
Students head to a school bus as Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) ICE agents prepare to arrest a fellow student and suspected MS-13 gang member at a nearby home, March 29, 2018 in Brentwood, New York.

This is not the first time the secretary has faced controversy.

During her tenure at the Department of Education, she has faced criticism for comments she's made on school safety, black history, and other matters.

In March, she said arming teachers "should be an option for states and communities to consider" during an interview after a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

In her highly contentious confirmation hearing, DeVos stirred up vehement objections to her nomination after hedging on an answer about guns and ultimately conceding that guns might be needed in schools in states like Wyoming to defend against "potential grizzlies."

Her most recent comments are drawing considerable backlash from civil rights groups.

"Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong," Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

During the heated exchange with Espaillat, DeVos referenced a Supreme Court decision that ruled that all children — regardless of their immigration status — are entitled to a free public education.

PHOTO: The Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, April 23, 2018.Jessica Gresko/AP, FILE
The Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, April 23, 2018.

"This was a Supreme Court decision rendered many years ago and so there are undocumented children in K-12 education today that we support and we give education to on a daily basis."

Critics pointed to that same 1982 decision, Plyler v. Doe, as they sought to poke holes in her testimony.

"The Court determined in 1982 that the Constitution requires all public schools to provide a free public education, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, to every child, regardless of immigration status," Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said. "Any public school or school district that denies an education to any undocumented child – whether by refusing to enroll, by limiting access to the programs and benefits provided to other students, or by reporting a child to ICE – has violated the United States Constitution."

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  • lorax1284

    Sorry Betsy: you have put yourself in the public eye, this wasn't some
    accident of fate that brought you onto the national stage... so to her
    relatives and friends, all I can say is don't be surprised or angry when
    many voices celebrate should horrible things happen to her in the
    future. No, we won't feel sympathy or empathy for her sycophants, her
    enablers, her supporters, her cheerleaders... only sympathy for the
    victims of her policies and her efforts to undermine public education
    and rob young people of their right to a decent public education. You
    reap what you sow, Betsy. If you want the world to celebrate you, stop
    sowing your demon seed.

  • Liz Young

    This is a good thing, but the "hate America" liberal press spins it as very bad! Why do you liberals hate American citizens so much and love illegal aliens?

  • Roy Batty

    Illegal foreign invasion is NOT immigration. Immigrants obey the laws of the country they migrate to.

  • CrossfireHurricane

    The simple truth is that undocumented students cost school districts and taxpayers money.

  • BurmeseDude

    "You'd better behave, little Billy, or I'll report you to ICE."

    Devos is one shining star of Trump picks for cabinet because she doesn't believe in the mission of her department nor is she capable of doing a competent job. So she aced both.

  • Sarah Levine

    I would like to report that Betsy Devos is pretty much, as Tillerson would say, a [email protected]$% moron.

  • kritikosman

    No wonder she gets booed when makes speeches at schools.

  • John Wallace (Party of One)

    Damn straight she should be under fire, she have said schools are required to report illegals.

  • Colin Ferguson

    Kids are being slaughter by gunman in school and the unqualified Secretary of Disinformaion wants teachers to call ICE if they think the kid might be here illegally. We live in a very f***ed up country right now.

  • Truth-B-Me

    This woman knows absolutely NOTHING about education at all. She greatly lacks intelligence and common sense, but she got this position the same way others did, by making very large financial contributions to the Trump campaign. What a joke and an embarrassment.

  • WhosVoice

    A Senate subcommittee has found that federal officials lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children last year after a government agency placed the minors in the custody of adult sponsors in communities nationwide.

    A Senate subcommittee has found that the government risks placing migrant children in the custody of human traffickers because federal agencies have delayed crucial reforms.

  • gypsy

    "The Court determined in 1982 that the Constitution requires all public schools to provide a free public education, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, to every child, regardless of immigration status,"

    Education isn't free. It isn't even free for those of you who don't have kids. We pay property taxes which goes to fund the local ISD.

  • mollydtt

    Trump has done a great job of convincing his base that 5 year olds are drug smugglers, rapists, gang members and some, I think are very fine people.

  • Stefan Michaud

    Betsy got confused and accidentally used the wrong word. She meant to say schools could DEport, not REport, children lacking proper documents.

  • Link

    "You cannot have immigration law for one state be different for another state and it applies to everybody across the country," -Rep. Adriano, (D-NY) How refreshing to hear a Democrat who opposes the madness of sanctuary cities and states!

  • MauiOhana808

    This whole administration is a cluster puck!!!!
    Make America Happy Again!!!
    Thank you Special Prosecutor Mueller and the US Intel community!!
    Aloha :^D

  • NuffAlready

    Pffft.....An Anti-Education Secretary of Education, an environmental polluter for EPA head, a bizarre surgeon heading Housing and Urban Development, .........only the best.

  • Charles Falgout

    What about Hillary's "It takes a village"? Can we as a community work together, so we can understand fully who is in our country? I thought that was a Democrat position?