Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Did Not Say Schools Should Call ICE on Immigrant Kids

But did you know that Obama's ICE arrested students at bus stops? Our immigration policy is a bipartisan nightmare.


Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke with some members of Congress last week. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D–N.Y.) asked whether she thought public schools should call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents if they suspect students of being illegal immigrants. DeVos' reply, via The Huffington Post:

"I think that's a school decision, it's a local community decision," DeVos told the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate. I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this."

That response led to the HuffPost headline "Betsy DeVos Stirs Uproar By Saying Schools Can Call ICE On Undocumented Kids: The education secretary said it's a local decision, but she didn't argue against it." By the time GQ reported on the issue just three days later, its headline declared, "Betsy DeVos Says Schools Should Call ICE on Undocumented Students" (emphasis added). That's even though GQ's Luke Darby writes:

DeVos is right, we do have laws—laws that forbid exactly what she's directing schools to do. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that schools cannot deny children their right to a free education based on their immigration status.

So there's actually no justification for the idea that DeVos and, by extension, the Trump administration is actively calling for sweeps and raids on public schools or even that she's partial to the idea.

Two things are worth noting. First, DeVos has revealed herself since her confirmation hearings to be untroubled by the finer points of education policy. That's not good. Second, she is targeted so continuously by critics of the Trump administration because she supports school choice programs that allow K-12 students to exit traditional public schools. The federal government is strictly limited in how much choice it can enable, but it's very good that she supports the concept.

But since this is the Age of Trump, where all public discourse is conducted at best in the spirit of truthiness, it's worth digging into what ICE policy is toward school sweeps. The answer is mixed and muddled but it also illuminates a truth very few people want to acknowledge: Our immigration policies, especially regarding kids, are a bipartisan nightmare. During the Obama years, ICE didn't randomly sweep schools looking for undocumented foreign kids, but it did pick them up from time to time at bus stops.

The 1982 Supreme Court decision Plyer v. Doe is little-discussed but hugely important. In response to a Texas law that would have either charged the children of illegal immigrants $1,000 per kid to attend local public schools or banned their attendance altogether, the Court ruled that a school district must accept all children who live within its borders for K-12 education without concern for citizenship status. Though this was a 5–4 decision, both sides agreed that "no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment 'jurisdiction' can be drawn between resident immigrants whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident immigrants whose entry was unlawful." The decision settled a thorny issue, but it also opened up a different can of worms. Nationwide, schools spend as much as $20,000 per student, with the national average coming in at $11,392. Typically, K-12 spending is the single biggest outlay that gets counted against illegal immigrants whenever restrictionists start talking dollars and cents.

Yet ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have a policy against most school sweeps. As the American Civil Liberties Union summarizes it, the two agencies

will not engage in immigration enforcement in sensitive locations like schools absent prior approval by a supervisor or exigent circumstances. This policy has recently been reaffirmed by the Department of Homeland Security. This means that ICE and CBP generally will not arrest, interview, search, or surveil a person for immigration enforcement purposes while at a school, a known school bus stop, or an educational activity.

From ICE's own policy page:

Pursuant to ICE policy, enforcement actions are not to occur at or be focused on sensitive locations such as schools, places of worship, unless;

  1. exigent circumstances exist;
  2. other law enforcement actions have led officers to a sensitive location, or
  3. prior approval is obtained from a designated supervisory official.

The policy is intended to guide ICE officers and agents' actions when enforcing federal law at or focused on sensitive locations, to enhance the public understanding and trust, and to ensure that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so, without fear or hesitation.

That isn't to say that ICE never picks up kids at schools or closely related locations (such as school bus stops) that meet the agency's definition of a "sensitive location." In 2016, for instance, ThinkProgress described agents picking up an 18-year-old high school student at his bus stop in North Carolina. That happened on Barack Obama's watch.

In all, ThinkProgress reported over 300 students were picked up in a coordinated raid that

ignited controversy over the Obama administration's longstanding struggle between enforcing border security and allowing undocumented immigrants with roots in the country to continue living without the fear of deportation.

A spokesman for ICE told the Charlotte Observer that that agency doesn't do wide-ranging sweeps or dragnets:

The targets are more specific, he says: All are "recent arrivals" who came into the country after Jan. 1, 2014; they are legally adults who lost in court and received deportation orders.

"When we showed up, it should not have been a surprise[.]"

What's more, the location where the specific student was picked up was, er, bus-stop-adjacent:

"People will tell you that kids looked out of the school bus and saw it happening, but what they leave out is that the bus was driving down the road at the time (the arrest) was taking place," said [the spokesman]. "It's being portrayed as if it happened directly at the bus stop."

To bring it back to DeVos's comments, ICE isn't conducting sweeps at schools or other sensitive locations populated by K-12 students. Though it will go after specific individuals at or near those locations. And when it does, it will be doing exactly what the Obama administration was doing.

As an pro-immigrant libertarian, I don't find any of that comforting. But I think most rational people would agree it's miles away from "Betsy DeVos Says Schools Should Call ICE on Undocumented Students."

Until we can begin to acknowledge the awful immigration continuities between Obama (who forcibly removed far more immigrants than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush) and Trump (who is doing his damnedest to beat Obama), we won't be able to grapple with policies that a majority of Americans find distasteful and immoral. The nearly 1,500 unaccompanied minors "lost" by the Department of Health and Human Services showed up during Obama's tenure. Even the Trump administration's newly announced policy to separate families caught at the border dates back to 2005, around the time that George W. Bush was pushing for supposedly humane immigration reform. Large majorities of Americans believe that immigrants under the age of 18 who were brought here illegally by their parents ("Dreamers") should be allowed to stay. In polls, illegal immigration ranks far behind other concerns, such as health care, guns, and government spending.

If the debate over immigration—or foreign policy, or government spending, or anything—remains little more than an exercise in partisan point-making, nothing good can and will happen.

NEXT: U.K. Arrests Anti-Muslim Activist Tommy Robinson for Livestreaming Outside a Trial

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Was Hitler actually an addict? Was he actually secretly homosexual? Did he actually suffer from syphilis? Was he actually missing a testicle? These are things no one needs to look into because it only distracts from the evil that he did. Same with DeVos. Stop normalizing her.

    1. So, you’re comparing a pro-school choice, pro teacher-accountability Education appointee to a mass murderer.

      Lemme ask you a question; do you REALLY expect to be taken seriously? And if so, why?

      1. I don’t think he expects to be taken seriously. I think that’s the point

        1. These days who does expect to be taken seriously?

          1. Hihn, for some reason.

      2. Woosh

        1. That makes me scared. What happened in 2002? Were we visited? That was obviously taken from some actual thing that happened.


          1. Yes, we were visited by an “asteroid”.

            1. It better not try that shit with Trump in the White House.


              Yeah Man?

              The Feds want to spend $2.5 billion to catch a steroid!?!? They need to talk to Lance Armstrong and / or Barry Bonds and his / their black-market connections; I am QUITE sure that Lance (etc.) could arrange to score a steroid for FAR less than THAT!!!

              1. Broken old link, sorry… Try…..mages.html …

        2. Actually as an aspiring science geek, I think that the “L1” point here is a LaGrange point of pseudo-gravity or at least gravitational stability, between the Earth and the Sun in this case, and the orbit there shown is probably theoretically possible. (L1 where Earth’s gravity and the Sun’s gravity are equal in strength). You could deliberately do that kind of a thing with a space probe orbit-path if you wanted to, I think.
          For an asteroid to fall into that kind of orbital path would be a 1 in 356,987 trillion chance of it happening randomly, says my calculator. So if we see a supposedly “natural body” doing this kind of thing to the Earth, I would suspect it’s actually the little green men that are behind it!.

          1. And that’s scientific proof why no one gets my jokes.

            1. Scientific proof is one thing… Scientological proof is another! You forgot one thing about Hitler… He was ACTUALLY befestered by 23,987 “body thetans” sent by the Cruel Galactic Emperor Xenu, and if you would ONLY “donate” $300,000 to the Church of Scientology, for advanced training, they could PROVE this theory to you!

      3. Fix your sarcasm detector.

        1. Maybe Schofield out-sarcasmed us all.

        1. …ho is OBLes??? I DON’T KNOW IF I’M BEING INSULTED OR NOT.

          1. Our resident bad parody. I don’t know what the es is for though.

            1. Ohhhh. I wouldn’t know since I only ever read my own comments. Maybe the s stands for Sr.

            2. The es is so I can say it as a word.


  2. “Pursuant to ICE policy, enforcement actions are not to occur at or be focused on sensitive locations such as schools, places of worship, unless;
    (blah blah) or
    “prior approval is obtained from a designated supervisory official.”

    Oh, well, then, that’s an airtight safeguard right there.

  3. As I read elsewhere, to get Progs on board, DeVos and Trump should change the terminology of school vouchers to a school “public option”.

    Good enough for insurance, per Progs, good enough for schooling.

    1. Not if you’re moving *away* from reliance on govt-run services, only if you’re moving *toward* it.

      1. I guess when you move from having no option, having an option seems worse to some people.

  4. People are misrepresenting the Pyler v Doe decision. It didn’t say that students can’t be deported. It only said that as long as they are here, they are entitled to an education.

    1. I can’t tell if they are willfully misrepresenting it, or if they just aren’t very smart.

      Usually the latter.

      I was waiting for the author to point out the distinction between “you have to educate them if they aren’t deported” and “you can’t call ICE.”

    2. Agreed, it takes a special kind of stupid to think that this Supreme Court ruling made it “unconstitutional” to deport someone because they were of a school child because otherwise there would have been at least one successful challenge to the deportations since then in the thirty-six years since this case.

  5. So illegals ARE using taxpayer provided schools?

    I guess that counter claims that illegals cost American taxpayers $0.

    1. You made that up. What anyone actually says is that illegals pay taxes — especially the taxes that finance schools in most states. Are you also ignorant that they subsidize both Social Security and Medicare, with FICA taxes for “benefits” they are barred from receiving?

      1. Illegals pay rent, and therefore they pay the property taxes that fund the schools (at least in Texas).

        They also buy gas, and we “siphon” off gas taxes for education in Texas.

        And lottery tickets.

      2. The claim that’s usually made is that illegal aliens pay more in taxes than they consume in public services but unless the parents of every child who attends public school are paying between $11,000-12,500 per child in taxes, then they’re not even covering that cost.

        1. Seems like very few parents are paying that much, citizen or not.

          1. Likely not. Citizens, though, have the right to use the benefits. Illegals do not.

            My kids are a net drain on my income. It does not mean I have to finance my neighbors’ kids also…you know, to be fair.

            1. Citizens, though, have the right to use the benefits. Illegals do not.

              What do you mean by “right” in this sentence? I trust you don’t mean unalienable individual natural right.

              So you must mean legal right, or entitlement.

              If that is so, you are incorrect: A government that provides public schooling for citizens must provide public schooling for illegals.

              1. Which part of the BOR or Constitution or case law or stautory law is that written? You know, since we’ve defined we’re talking about legal rights.

                1. Uh… the above mentioned Plyer v. Doe.

        2. It also assumes they use no services like Medicaid (or at least free healthcare in ERs), food stamps, etc. Which most of them do.

      3. Many illegals work for cash. They won’t pay a dime into SS and medicare.

        You’re also assuming illegals work full time consistently and have stable source of income. They don’t. Whatever individual states have to pay for their upkeep (healthcare, education, legal representation, even prison) will mostly offset their contribution. The CBO estimated that undocumented aliens in CA represented a slight negative on their budget, albeit making up a small percent of the budget.

        This was always silly argument. Why won’t Canada accept 20 million Mexicans into their vastly empty lands so they can subsidize their healthcare? If we legalized every illegal right now, half of them will be eligible for SS and medicare benefits, meaning they’ll likely get back 3 times what they put in, which is rate for legal Americans. There’s a reason why entitlement spending drives the deficit.

        1. Stop using Canada in your arguments, fauxbertarians.
          We let in vastly more immigrants, per capita, than America does.
          They just roar in, year after year, despite Canadians’ objections.

      4. Bullshit. They consume far more than they contribute. Illegals cost us billions every year, and any notion to the contrary is delusional garbage.

  6. Nick’s is a longer and more detailed description of the “confusion” DeVos nailed so well. She’s rarely that coherent.

  7. DeVos is right, we do have laws?laws that forbid exactly what she’s directing schools to do. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that schools cannot deny children their right to a free education based on their immigration status.

    Plyer v. Doe held that a public school cannot deny education based on immigration status. It said nothing about calling the federal immigration authorities if it is suspected that someone is illegal.

    The guy who wrote this is either an ignormaus or a mendacious liar.

    1. The guy who wrote this is either an ignormaus or a mendacious liar.

      Probably both.

      1. either an ignormaus or a mendacious liar. ‘progressive’ is a shorter way to say that.

  8. “I think that’s a school decision, it’s a local community decision,” DeVos told the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

    *shrugs* Technically she’s right. School officials can choose to involve law enforcement or not in any illegal or suspected illegal activity. It just seems that most are more likely to involve them in cases where students are sending each other nudie pics than any kind of real crime. I guess that tells you everything you need to know about their priorities.

    1. It’s a local decision as long as they *don’t* call ICE. It’s a Federal decision if they do.

  9. So Ms DeVos articulated a federalist position on a matter that has essentially been handled in a federalist fashion. Wow. Let’s set up the burning stake immediately.

    1. Federalism is one of the main obstacles to Team Blue’s desired Total Government Control.

  10. What is the daily quota at Reason for immigration articles and are were there yet?

    1. You’ll know when we’re there when we hit the wall.

  11. In some countries (if not most) the local cops can drag foreigners into their precinct over some non immigration issue, punch their info on the computer and viola, you might be halfway to deportation.

    A popular story you hear from foreign English teachers in Korea concern “legal bribes”. If a local falsely accuses you of assaulting him on the streets, you better have the money to compensate the “victim” if you don’t want to be deported. Because you effectively have to legal resource to fight it, even though the country invited you to teach in their schools. And the witnesses will sometimes lie to protect one of their own.

    The legion of leftists who argue that Trump immigration policy is akin to the rise of the Third Reich have no sense of perspective or how immigration works around most of the world. The countries revered by the American left treats their immigrants with 10% of the basic rights that immigrants enjoy here. Canada can deport people straight from the airport.

    1. “Canada can deport people straight from the airport.”
      Wrong again, fauxbertarian.
      Anyone who steps one foot on Canadian soil gets all the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
      Once here, we lose track of people all the time, and we don’t kick anybody out without, and even with, a long, drawn-out process of appeals.
      Govts of all brands in Canada import immigrants by the boat load b/c businesses claim there aren’t enough workers. Once here, forget it, they just don’t leave and aren’t compelled to, in practice.
      We are way, way closer to being in the same mess Europe is than we are to America immigration policy.

      1. I’ll,talke xm’s word over yours any day of the week. And aren’t you about due to bitterly masturbate to your 8×10″ glossy of Trump?

      2. Any country will deport people from the airport. What else are they going to do if they don’t want you?

        It isn’t like airplanes can stop at the border. The next best thing is at the airport.

        So YES, Canada will hold people and send them back if they aren’t wanted in the country. The other options are to just let them go. What kind of border security would that be? None at all.

  12. No one should comment in public about our so-called “immigration policy”, except to say something along these lines:

    “Until the warring quasi-adolescents we’ve elected to occupy space in Washington get their act together and work out a rational set of laws and regulations, there is no point in debating the pros and cons of immigration”. Just as it makes no sense to piss into the wind.

  13. “But did you know that Obama’s ICE arrested students at bus stops? ”

    Sanctuary bus stops now!

    1. “Pursuant to ICE policy, enforcement actions are not to occur at or be focused on sensitive locations such as schools, places of worship, unless;”

      ICE declares no go zones for enforcement of US immigration law.

      “Rule of Law”

      Build the Will to Enforce the Law
      Build the Wall and Deport them All

  14. The left got as far as the ‘local decision’ part and knew she had to be wrong again.
    So it is OK to make up stories and publish them, for the (illegal) children.

  15. Nice post!

  16. Check this narrative essay topics if you have to write an essay. They are truly good for every level.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.