Pronews 7 Investigates: Educating the Undocumented

Right now, local school districts are preparing for the new school year, but struggling to estimate the number of students due to the influx of immigrant children

State funding is awarded by the number of students that attend, but administrators often play an enrollment guessing game because students often don't show up until the first day. At this moment, because of the border crisis, schools across the country may have to accommodate even more students this year, as they are required to educate all students regardless of legal status.

On this edition of Pronews 7 Investigates: Educating the Undocumented, we spoke with two rural school districts in our region, and saw what they're doing to accommodate all the undocumented, despite their limited budgets.

Teachers will soon come face to face with these new students, and funding considerations are a pressing problem for many schools, because all children, regardless of legal status are guaranteed an education. Kelli Moulton, the Superintendent of Hereford ISD said it's important to put politics aside, because educating children who are present in our communities is critical to our future.

"All of this is because of the decision in 1982 that obligates the schools to provide an education to all children, even those unlawfully present," said immigration lawyer and legal scholar David Strange.

Strange is referring to the Plyer v. Doe case, which struck down a Texas statute that didn't allow illegal immigrants to enjoy a public education. This precedent has created some issues for public schools around the country, as they have to take absolutely anyone who shows up, including the most recent wave of unaccompanied minors that have entered this country in recent months.

"As they're released to family members or guardians, they can go anywhere in the country, so that's the difficulty in predicting how many children are coming in because the numbers at the border don't necessarily reflect what children are going to be released into what city or town," said Zelda Howell, an immigration lawyer who represents some unaccompanied minored who recently crossed the border

Now that school is starting, these unaccompanied minors will join other students, who may or may not be legal, and enroll in school districts around the country.

"We don't know who's going to show up at school on day one," said Superintendent Kelly Lusk of Farwell ISD. "We live in an area with a highly mobile population and we can try to prepare the best that we can that show up on day one, but ultimately we don't know until the first day of school."

While the influx of undocumented minors may or may not affect the Texas Panhandle and Eastern New Mexico, school districts in our area already handle thousands of undocumented kids. We spoke with one mixed-status family who said they're currently working towards legalization to match their American born children's status, and that one of their children is enrolled in Hereford ISD.

"This is my children's country, and although some people say, no, they're Mexican, the reality is that they're from here and they have the same rights as any American born citizen," said Maria, an undocumented immigrant whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

Both Hereford and Farwell ISD Superintendents told Pronews 7 that educating the youth, regardless of their status, is their duty as educators.

"If you don't educate the people who are here then what are you going to do when they become older, they become a burden on society," said Superintendent Moulton. "You don't want them to be a burden; you want them to be contributors."

"We're here to serve people that show up at the front door and that's our job as educators," said Superintendent Lusk. "We're going to welcome any child or any student at the front and we're going to the best that we can with them while we have them."

Howell said that despite the challenges of preparing schools for their arrival, it's a worthwhile effort.

"Those kids could be here for their entire lives, depending on whether they win their cases or not, so it's hard to prepare, but it's worth it to try," said Howell.

"These are kids who are fleeing poverty and violence and we've seen their stories on the news, they're choosing between death and taking a chance crossing the border, and obviously they prefer to take a chance," said Maria.

Tomorrow, on Pronews 7 Investigates: Educating the Undocumented Part II, we'll find out what the consequences of a broken immigration system are for local schools, including a state funding system in Texas that is simply not providing enough for many schools.