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Lawsuit: N.J. school districts requiring immigration status to enroll children

By Susan McFarland
Lawsuit: N.J. school districts requiring immigration status to enroll children
Children participate in a protest on Capitol Hill Thursday of migrant family separations at the border. Several New Jersey school districts were named in an ACLU lawsuit Thursday that argues children are being allowed to enroll only if they can show valid immigration status. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

July 27 (UPI) -- The American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey is suing 11 school districts and a charter school, saying they're unlawfully requiring valid U.S. immigration status to enroll children.

The lawsuits, which cover 10 New Jersey counties, say the schools are requiring state-issued identification to facilitate enrollment, which is forbidden by state law.

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"In addition to requesting proof of residency, age, current immunizations (all of which are permissible), the [school] adds an impermissible and discriminatory registration hurdle: a requirement that parents provide a valid driver's license," the lawsuit said. "It is not possible for immigrants who lack Social Security numbers or a valid immigration status to obtain such identification."

ACLU attorney Elyla Huertas said New Jersey's constitution calls for free public education, "and that applies to every single child -- no exceptions."

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"In a state where one in five residents is foreign-born, at a time when our president has made the exclusion of immigrants a key part of his policy agenda, it's more important than ever for every school district in New Jersey to meet its obligations," Huertas said.

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ACLU New Jersey Executive Director Amol Sinha said public schools exist to educate all children in the community.

"Together, these policies add up to a quiet, daily injustice that allows discrimination to metastasize and that tells families, incorrectly and unconstitutionally, that they can't access the fundamental rights they're entitled to," Sinha said. "The stakes are too high to allow these unlawful and discriminatory policies to continue, especially here, especially now."

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Some districts named in the suit pushed back immediately, saying they do not base enrollment decisions on immigration status.

The Northern Valley District said in an email to NBC News it complies with all state and federal regulations.

"We are going to vigorously defend ourselves against these baseless charges," Supt. James Santana said in the email.

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Some districts said school websites are still showing outdated information, something they are working to change.

Sea Girt schools Supt. Rich Papera told NBC News the district's policy was updated in 2014 but its website has not been.

"As of this morning, we removed the misleading and inaccurate documents from the website that had not been updated to match the policy and regulation," Papera said.

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