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What Teachers Supporting Undocumented Students Should Know

Millions of students across the country are undocumented or living in mixed-status homes. These laws and resources can help teachers and allies better understand their needs and rights.

October 15, 2018

Paula Ann Solis

Paula Ann Solis

More than 2.5 million undocumented immigrant children live in the United States today, along with more than 4 million children who live in households with at least one family member who is undocumented.

For these children, fear and anxiety stemming from their possible separation from loved ones is a daily concern. What do educators need to know about students’ rights and creating safe classrooms for all immigrant students? One Day spoke with Viridiana Carrizales, who along with Vanessa Luna (L.A. '14) co-founded ImmSchools, an organization that works to support immigrant students and their families. Other sources for this information include the National Immigration Law Center and the American Federation of Teachers.

Undocumented Students and Families Have The Right To:

Enroll. All children in the U.S. have a right to a free, public, K-12 education, regardless of their citizenship status or national origin. This right comes from the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Plyler v. Doe decision extending the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to undocumented children. Additionally, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act bars schools from denying an education to students who are homeless or lack a stable address.

Privacy. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents schools from sharing students’ personal information without a guardian’s consent, including information that could reveal a student’s immigration status.

Safety. Except in special circumstances, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy prohibits ICE agents and officers from entering “sensitive locations,” including schools and universities.

To Support These Students, Educators Can:

Create immigration-themed lesson plans. Immigrant and undocumented students may not want to reveal their status, but the classroom provides an opportunity for all students to learn about their rights. Teaching Tolerance, Colorín Colorado, and ImmSchools compile relevant lesson plans in multiple languages.

Gather and share emergency resources. In the event that students or their families are detained by ICE agents or officers, free sources of help and resources vary widely from state to state. One starting place is to search the Immigration Advocates Network’s national immigration legal services directory for a state-by-state list of pro bono legal service providers. On its website, ImmSchools provides a printable one-page educator resource guide that lists 10 ways teachers can create safe and welcoming classrooms for immigrant students. The form provides space for educators to list organizations in their communities that provide services.

Create know your rights cards. Students and their family members can carry “know your rights cards” to use in case they are confronted or detained by ICE or other law enforcement officials. Visit for more Know Your Rights materials in Spanish, Polish, Korean, Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Hindi, and Haitian Creole.

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