Answers to Questions about Education of Unaccompanied Central American Children Seeking U.S. Refuge

The flow of unaccompanied Central American children seeking refuge at the Texas-Mexico border in recent months may have abated lately, but the approach of a new school year brings questions about the education of the school-age kids among them while their immigration status is resolved. With Texas AFT in the lead, the recent American Federation of Teachers national convention in Los Angeles passed a special policy resolution committing AFT to work with civic leaders, clergy, refugee and immigrant rights groups, labor and other community organizations to ensure that these children’s health, educational, safety and legal needs are being met.  The Texas Education Agency on August 12 forwarded to school districts a U.S. Department of Education advisory on the educational aspects of this issue, including the following Q-and-A:

Q1. Do States and school districts have an obligation to educate children who arrived to the United States?

A1. Yes. Under Federal law, States and local educational agencies are obligated to provide all children–regardless of immigration status–with equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level. This includes children such as unaccompanied children who may be involved in immigration proceedings….

Q2. Where are unaccompanied children housed while in temporary custody?

A2. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) operates about 150 shelters throughout the nation for unaccompanied children that care for the children until they are released to sponsors, on average within 35 days. A majority of these shelters care for fewer than 50 children. Shelters are operated by non-profit organizations, generally as group homes. HHS pays for and provides all services for the children while they are in care at a shelter. This includes providing food, clothing, education, medical screening, and any needed medical care to the children. The children at these shelters do not attend local public schools, do not integrate into the local community, and remain under staff supervision at all times. Additional information about HHS custody is available here.

Q3. Are children provided with basic education services while in temporary custody at HHS shelters?

A3. Yes. The children are provided with basic education services and activities by HHS grantees. Thus, these children do not enroll in local schools while living in HHS shelters.

Q4. Are children who arrived as unaccompanied children ever enrolled in local schools?

A4. While students are in HHS custody at HHS shelters, they will not be enrolled in the local school systems. When students are released to an appropriate sponsor, typically a parent, relative or family member, or other adult sponsor, while awaiting immigration proceedings, they have a right–just like other children living in their community–to enroll in local schools regardless of their or their parents’ actual or perceived immigration or citizenship status. State laws also require children to attend school up to a certain age. A small number of children in HHS custody are placed in long-term foster care instead of being released to a sponsor. These children do enroll in public school in the community where their foster care is located. Children in all other care settings receive education at an HHS facility.

Q5. Are immunization records available for children who arrived as unaccompanied children to the United States?

A5. While at HHS shelters, the children receive vaccinations. When a child is released from HHS custody to a sponsor, the sponsor is given a copy of the child’s medical and immunization records compiled during their time in custody. If a sponsor does not have a copy of the child’s medical or immunization records, the sponsor can request a new copy from HHS via e-mail at Requests.DUCS@acf.hhs.gov.

Q6. Are children who arrived as unaccompanied children eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?

A6. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “DACA,” does not apply to children who arrive now or in the future in the United States. To be considered for DACA, individuals must have continually resided in the U.S. since June 2007.

Q7. Do districts have the ability to use Federal education funds to address the needs of unaccompanied children who enroll in the district?

A7. States and LEAs have the ability to use various Federal education funds for this purpose. For example, to the extent that such children attend Title I schools, they may be eligible to receive Title I, Part A services. In addition, as discussed above, States can reserve up to 15% of their Title III formula grants for immigrant subgrants, and if a State has previously reserved a lesser amount, it could increase that amount for next year’s subgrants.

Q8. Is there a place to ask additional questions about immigrant children who enroll in the district?

A8. For help with additional questions regarding resources for unaccompanied children, please call the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-USA-LEARN or visit answers.ed.gov.

For an electronic version of the entire federal fact sheet, including the above Q-and-A plus links to cited documents, visit: www.ed.gov/unaccompaniedchildren.