Influx of Illegal Immigrant Children Likely to Strain Public Schools

Washington, D.C. – Each of the tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children pouring across the U.S.-Mexico border who remains in this country is legally entitled to a free public education. If President Obama allows large numbers of illegal alien children to remain in the United States, the public schools will have to manage an unforeseen and possibly unmanageable influx of new foreign children as early as this fall.

This may have a profound impact on public school students – an impact that will disproportionately fall on black and lower-income students, as they are disproportionately likely to attend public schools.

Facts and Figures

  • A draft memo written by Border Patrol Deputy Chief Ronald Vitiello on May 30, 2014 and obtained by the Associated Press estimated that approximately 90,000 unaccompanied children may illegally enter the United States during the 2014 fiscal year that ends on September 30 and this number is expected to expand to 142,000 in 2015.1 Still more children not counted in that figure arrived with family members. Illegal immigrant children and American-born children of illegal immigrants comprised an estimated 6.8 percent of the enrollment of American primary and secondary schools in March 2008.2
  • Harmful effects related to expanding class sizes and additional costs and strained resources related to enrolling a sudden large influx of illegal alien children will likely have a disparate impact on black students because they are overwhelmingly more likely to be enrolled in public schools. According to 2010 American Community Survey data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, 93 percent of black boys between the ages of 5 and 19 and 92 percent of black girls in that same age group who were in school were enrolled in public schools.3
  • Illegal immigrant children cannot legally be denied enrollment in public schools under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the 1982 case of Plyler v. Doe. In that case, a group of students who came to the United States from Mexico sued a Texas school district that sought to make students unable to prove their citizenship or legal immigration status pay tuition. The Court ruled that denying undocumented children the same public school benefits of citizens and legal immigrants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.4 Furthermore, senior lawyers in the Obama Administration believe exclusion of illegal immigrant children constitutes discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.5
  • On May 8, 2014, Obama Administration Attorney General Eric Holder reinforced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decades-old ruling to protecting the unfettered enrollment of illegal immigrant children when he said “[p]ublic school districts have an obligation to enroll students regardless of immigration status and without discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.” He further said the Justice Department will do “everything it can” to ensure schools comply with his demand.6
  • Also on May 8, 2014, school districts nationwide received a policy directive on immigrant enrollment in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter signed by Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon, Department of Education Deputy General Counsel Philip E. Rosenfelt and Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Jocelyn Samuels. This letter warned against any actions that may “chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status” because such actions “contravene Federal law.” In particular, administrators were informed children could not be denied enrollment if they could not or would not present a birth certificate or could or would not provide a Social Security number (proof of residency within a school district boundaries is a valid question that may be asked). “Precipitous drops in the enrollment of any group of students in a district or school,” the letter warned,” may signal that there are barriers to their attendance that you should further investigate.”7
  • The nation’s two largest teachers unions endorse smaller class sizes. The American Federation of Teachers “strong[ly] advocates for reducing class size to help raise student achievement, especially in high-poverty, at-risk schools” of between 15 and 19 students per class.8 The National Education Association similarly “supports a class size of 15 students in the earliest grades of regular school programs and even smaller classes in programs for students with exceptional needs.”9
  • While the federal government reports that the national pupil-to-teacher average was 16-1 in 2010,10 this can be misleading as a measure for urban areas or more populous states. For example, the 2011-2012 average class size for grades K-3 in the state of California was 22.2,11 and was 23.9 for the same grades in New York City. An unplanned increase of students into schools without budgets for or plans to hire new teachers means classroom sizes will inevitably increase.12

What Project 21 Members Say About Amnesty’s Impact on Public Schools

“While we discuss the ability of illegal immigrants to obtain a free education in the United States, citizens of this country are going to jail for sending their children to better school districts that they don’t have the legal right to access due to residency laws. The sad irony is that American mothers being criminalized for wanting better schools for their kids are black and they pay taxes. Illegal immigrants do not. Also disturbing is the idea that school district officials aren’t permitted to even inquire about legal status. This has prompted an enormous influx, for example, in schools in Atlanta, Georgia. An influx that will be paid for by, you guessed it, taxpayers. Should the educational needs of children here illegally take precedence over taxpaying citizens? Of course not. But I’m not making the rules here. President Obama is, and his priorities are clearly misplaced.” – Project 21 member Stacy Washington, a mother, former school board member and St. Louis radio talk show host

“Is the Obama Administration’s reaction to the migrant child crisis knee-jerk or part of a larger plan? While it may seem politically correct and humanitarian to allow these children to cross the border and assimilate into our health and educational systems, the inevitable overload on our entitlement system has not been dealt with. There’s already been an inability to test for certain communicable diseases in refugee centers, increasing the risk of a health crisis. Now, even though our educational systems are already overloaded and class sizes exploding, the Obama Administration is requiring schools to accept migrant children and make matters worse. And he is doing this to the detriment of teachers whose unions ironically supported him so strongly. The only preparation the White House seems to offer schools is a fact sheet and a letter stating their obligation to comply. These pieces of paper are not quite as intangible as a speech, but they still miss the mark in terms of prepping schools to handle this overload.” – Project 21 member Hughey Newsome, a financial analyst and parent

“Teachers unions like to call the children of illegal immigration ‘dreamers’ and want to extend all the benefits of our educational system to them. But they are going to create a nightmare for their membership when teachers are suddenly faced with increased class sizes they already say are too large and are forced to do more with resources they say are already stretched past their limits. Teachers who are members of these unions should ask their leaders why they are willing to let this happen to them and why President Obama did this to the unions who supported him so strongly in the past.” – Project 21 spokesman Kevin Martin, an environmental contractor and the son of a retired public school teacher

“As someone who spent two years teaching at a public charter school in Washington, D.C., I can attest to the demands and hardship that comes with an underfunded and overcrowded classroom. While I don’t fault anyone for wanting to come to America to seek a better life, the problem posed by the current wave of humanity illegally coming across our borders is problematic and unsustainable. It creates an unfair situation for native-born students and immigrants who are here legally, teachers, lawmakers who must set budgets and taxpayers who must pay for those budgets. Dumping illegal immigrant children on our public schools with no recourse is a bad reaction to a bad problem.” – Project 21 member Bishop Council Nedd II, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Missionary Church

What Others Are Saying about the Impact of Illegal Immigrant School Enrollment

In many school districts across the nation, officials are unsure how they will deal with additional burdens expected by new illegal immigrant enrollees:

  • In Lynn, Massachusetts, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, whose city schools already have experienced 600 new foreign-born admissions (including 126 known illegal immigrants) told the local Boston Fox network affiliate that “it’s gotten to the point where the school system is overwhelmed, our health department is overwhelmed, the city’s budget is being… altered in order of accommodate all of these admissions in the school department.”13 After her comments were published, over 100 people protested outside the mayor’s office, claiming she was making illegal immigrant children “scapegoats.”14
  • National Review Online reported that immigrant persons older than school age are seeking to enroll in the public schools in Lynn, Massachusetts. In one case, an enrollee was reported between 30-35 years old. A potential security risk arose when a foreign-born applicant used an arrest warrant as proof of identification. School officials report that adult foreign-born students created disruptions in the past by taking extended unexcused absences believed to be related to the acquisition of seasonal work.15
  • At least 2,200 new potential students have already arrived in Maryland, posing many questions to school administrators beyond where to put them. Frances Negron of the National School Board Association told USA Today: “We don’t know the[ir] educational background, if they’ve even been to school, the language issue and operational issues that could raise costs.”16
  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools reports spending $1,959 more per child for immigrant children and is reliant on community partnerships and emergency funding to deal with unexpected influxes of foreign students.17 It has already asked for more federal aid to meet expected demand (the district spent an average of $8,512 per student in 2012).18 An exact request for funding is virtually impossible because, as spokesman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego explained, “[w]e don’t know how many more are coming this upcoming school year because Central American children usually enroll just two or three weeks before the school year begins.”19
  • The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated that the 2014 fiscal burden of illegal immigration on California taxpayers related to education is $12.3 billion for children in K-12 schools.20 With regard to California’s expenses for illegal immigrant children and children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents, Lance T. Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute, wrote: “No one can deny that increasing numbers of children of illegal immigrants attend public schools in the United States and that U.S. taxpayers pay the costs. Those sympathetic to illegal immigration tend to remain silent about these costs, while illegal-immigration opponents often fall short on specifics. In the interest of more informed discourse, here are the numbers… The actual cost of schooling these children could be higher because many education dollars are earmarked for special purposes. At the federal level, Title I funds are sent to schools to support disadvantaged children, which benefits many children of illegal immigrants. In California, the state’s Economic Impact Aid program provides tax dollars to fund English-language acquisition, which aids children of illegal immigrants. Capital costs for school construction may have increased at a higher rate because of the influx of children of illegal immigrants.”21
  • Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D) said on July 24 that there were already at least 117 illegal immigrant children relocated to that state, but that the federal government will not release any information on their locations. In Delaware’s Indian River School District, Sussex Central High School had 70 new students enroll last year who did not speak English, something that principal Jay Owens told DelmarvaNow followed “no rhyme or reason, we just saw an influx.” School districts there get their funding based on student enrollment as of September 30, and IRSD board member Donald Hattier worried, “This is going to cost us an arm and a leg… I think they’re going to load us up.”22

In 2014, Project 21 members have already been interviewed or cited by the media over 1,000 times, including TVOne, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fox News Channel, Westwood One, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, SiriusXM satellite radio and 50,000-watt talk radio stations such as WBZ-Boston and KDKA-Pittsburgh, on issues that include civil rights, entitlement programs, the economy, race preferences, education and corporate social responsibility. Project 21 has participated in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding race preferences and voting rights and defended voter ID laws at the United Nations. Its volunteer members come from all walks of life and are not salaried political professionals.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over two decades, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research (

Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated.


The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.