Secretary DeVos: Respect Plyler and Protect Immigrant Children

View a PDF of this letter here.

June 4, 2018

The Honorable Betsy DeVos
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos,

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and the 186 undersigned organizations, we urge you to clarify that you understand, and the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice will continue to enforce, the Supreme Court’s landmark case of Plyler v. Doe and subsequent caselaw, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On May 22, 2018 during your testimony before the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in response to a question about educators potentially reporting a child to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), you erroneously testified, “I think that’s a school decision, it’s a local community decision.” These comments and their misrepresentation of the law have caused fear and confusion for children, families, and educators, all of whom are owed accurate information about their rights and the law. Schools may not deny access to a basic public education to any child residing in the state, regardless of the child’s, parents’, or guardians’ immigration status. To comply with the U.S. Constitution, federal civil rights laws, as well as the mandates of the Supreme Court, schools must ensure that they do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and that students are not barred from enrolling in public schools at the elementary and secondary level on the basis of their own citizenship or immigration status or that of their parents or guardians.  This is the law; it is not optional.[i]

It is imperative that you immediately make clear publicly, to children, their families, and educators in every public school in multiple languages and through all of the Department’s communication channels that all children in this country have a right to a public education from kindergarten through 12th grade regardless of their immigration status. Schools may not do anything to deny or chill access to that constitutional right, including by reporting, or threatening to report, children to ICE. This right is protected by the Supreme Court and federal law and cannot be changed by the Secretary of Education, the Attorney General, any state, district, school, or any individual.

We urge you to act swiftly to ameliorate the harm your earlier statement caused.  Please contact Liz King, Leadership Conference director of education policy, at (202) 466-3311 with any questions.


National Organizations (107)

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights


Achievement First

Alliance for Excellent Education

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Civil Liberties Union

American Federation of Teachers

American Indian College Fund

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Anti-Defamation League

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Augustus F. Hawkins Foundation

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Avanza Strategies

Beloved Community

Camelback Ventures

Campaign for Youth Justice

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Children’s Defense Fund

Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues

Coalition of Labor Union Women

Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement

Council of Administrators of Special Education

Democrats for Education Reform

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

Diverse Charter Schools Coalition


Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC)

Equal Justice Society

Families In Schools

Feminist Majority Foundation


Herd on the Hill

Hispanic Federation

Human Rights Campaign

Immigrant Legal Resource Center


Innovare – Social Innovation Partners

Internationals Network for Public Schools

Japanese American Citizens League

Justice Strategies


La Comadre Network

LatinoJustice PRLDF

Latinos for Education

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

Learning Disabilities Association of America

LSA Family Health Service



MANA, A National Latina Organization


NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

National Action Network

National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE)

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Congress of American Indians

National Council of Jewish Women

National Crittenton

National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA)

National Education Association

National Employment Law Project

National Immigrant Justice Center

National Indian Education Association

National Network for Arab American Communities

National Organization for Women

National PTA

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

NEA Educators for Our Revolution

Network of Arab-American Professionals

New Leaders

New Profit

OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates

Offor Walker Group

Pahara Institute

Partners for Each and Every Child

PFLAG National

Poverty and Race Research Action Council

Relay Graduate School of Education

Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law

School Social Work Association of America

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center

Southern Poverty Law Center

Stand for Children

Strategies for Youth, Inc.

Students for Education Reform


Teach For America

Teach For America DACA Alumni Board

Teach Plus

Teach To Lead

The Advocacy Institute

The Arc of the United States

The Education Trust

The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)

The Opportunity Institute

The Opportunity Network

The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society


Treatment Communities of America


Wayfinder Foundation

Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice


State/Local Organizations (80)

A.C.D.P Inc.

Access California Services

Advocates for Children of New York

African American Attorneys Hawaii


Alliance for Quality Education

Arkansas United Community Coalition

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta

Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School

Baltimore’s Coalition of Black Leaders in Education

Bard Early College in New Orleans

Brothers Empowered to Teach


Camino Nuevo Charter Academy

Campaign for School Equity

Center for Health Progress

Children Now

Children’s Defense Fund – California

Children’s Defense Fund – Minnesota

Children’s Defense Fund – New York

Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio

Children’s Defense Fund – Texas

City Charter Schools

Coalition for Asian American Children and Families

Coalition for Educational Justice

College Beyond

College Goal New York

Colorado Association for Bilingual Education

Colorado Children’s Campaign

Colorado Fiscal Institute

Deep South Cherokee Keetoowah Foundations Foundations

Disability Rights Maryland

Down Syndrome Association of Connecticut

Education Justice Alliance

Education Law Center – PA

El Puente

El Sol Science and Arts Academy

Envision Education

Equality California

FATHUM: Learning Solutions

FirstLine Schools

Gestalt Community Schools

Hawai’i Friends of Civil Rights

Hawaii Filipino Lawyers Association

Hispanic Federation – CT

Hispanic Federation – FL

Innovate Public Schools

Isac Amaya Foundation

Kids in Tech, Inc.

KIPP Bay Area Schools

Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities

Muncie Human Rights Commission

NAACP CO MT WY State Conference

Native Hawaiian Education Council

New Abolitionist Association

New York Civil Liberties Union

New York State Association for Bilingual Education

North Carolina Justice Center

OneGoal, Massachusetts


Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow

Otero Strategy Group

Our Voice Nuestra Voz

Pacific Gateway Center

Palestinian American Community Center

Parent Advocate Group for an Equitable, Quality Education (PAGE QE)

Parent Revolution

Project Hospitality


ReGeneration Schools

South Bronx Preparatory

Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition

Tennessee State Conference NAACP

The Chesapeake Language Project

The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Inc.

The Education Trust-NY

The Trinidad Center

UnLocal, Inc.

Urban League of Greater Atlanta

Western Connecticut Association for Human Rights – WeCAHR


[i] See: 42 U.S.C. § 2000c-6, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d., 28 C.F.R. § 42.104(b)(2) and 34 C.F.R. § 100.3(b)(2)., Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982)., Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)., and The U.S. Department of Education & the U.S. Department of Justice. “Dear Colleague Letter on the Rights of All Children to Enroll in Public Schools.” May 8, 2014.