NYT: One in five New York State schools asks for immigration papers

All children living in a U.S. school district, regardless of their immigration status, are entitled to a free public education. So why are New York State school districts requiring parents to show visas, green cards or Social Security numbers to register their children for school? That's what the New York Times, prompted by an investigation by the New York Civil Liberties Union, asked today.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which culled a list of 139 such districts from hundreds of registration forms and instructions posted online, has not found any children turned away for lack of immigration paperwork. But it warned in a letter to the state’s education commissioner on Wednesday that the requirements listed by many registrars, however free of discriminatory intent, “will inevitably discourage families from enrolling in school for fear that they would be reported to federal immigration authorities.”

For months, the group has been pushing the State Education Department to stop the practices, which range from what the advocates consider unintentional barriers, like requiring a Social Security number, to those the letter called “blatantly discriminatory,” like one demanding that noncitizen children show a “resident alien card,” with the warning that “if the card is expired, it will not be accepted.”

So far, the article says, the State Education Department hasn't shown much interest in taking the schools to task. But there's nothing like a sharp poke in the eye from the New York Times to get instant results: Many of the school districts are already changing their policies as a result of the investigation.

In the Spencerport Central School District, near Rochester, cited by the advocates for glaringly discriminatory requirements, calls for comment were not returned.

More typical, however, was the response by the Fairport Central School District, also near Rochester, where officials quickly dropped a requirement for a visa or green card, and changed questions about citizenship to ones seeking verification of a child’s birth date.

A letter and spreadsheet from the NYCLU cites a few local school districts for the practice. Most ask only for students' Social Security numbers, but one -- New Paltz in Ulster County -- requires a passport and visa from non-citizens. Here are the Catskills-area school districts cited in the document:

Greene County: Greenville, Windham-Ashland-Jewett

Schoharie County: Sullivan West

Sullivan County: Livingston Manor, Tri-Valley

Ulster County: Kingston, New Paltz, Onteora

No schools in Delaware County were listed in the document.