HEBRON — A high school wrongly asked a woman and her son about his immigration status when they sought enrollment, state education officials say.
Ester Cherry, an immigrant from Brazil who is living in Hebron and has a green card, was trying to enroll her son for his sophomore year at RHAM High School when they were asked about his status, she said.
“She looked at him and asked, ‘Are you a citizen?’ And he was taken aback and asked me, ‘Mom, am I?'” Cherry said.
They were talking to administrative staff in a counselor’s office when they said they needed his green card for his records and said that if he was on a visitor’s visa, he could not be enrolled at the school.
Her son, born in Brazil, is also a green card holder, because Cherry’s marriage to a U.S. citizen.
According to the state Department of Education’s guidelines, school districts should request only documentation that helps to establish town of residency when enrolling kids in school. Requests for documentation of citizenship or immigration status of a student, parent or guardian should not be made because it is “not relevant” to establish residency, according to the state Department of Education’s guidelines.
Cherry moved to Hebron with her family from Maryland and said they initially lived in Farmington, Connecticut, from March until June.
“I went back on Aug. 6 … and said, ‘I’m not going to bring his green card’ and ‘This is illegal; you can’t ask me that,'” she said, adding that the worker still insisted on needing the green card and denied her son enrollment.
Cherry said she contacted Sen. Chris Murphy’s office, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. Murphy’s office then reached out to the state Department of Education, which then contacted the school district superintendent.
She said she was later told her son could attend the school and pick his classes.
Chris Llinas, an immigration and criminal defense lawyer in Connecticut, said the only valid criterion factoring into a child’s eligibility for public school is residency in the school district.
Peter Yazbak, spokesman for the education department, said Superintendent Patricia Law plans to retrain and inform staff members about state and federal rules and guidelines about student eligibility for enrollment.
“The superintendent had been made aware of the issue and got the ball rolling to take corrective action,” he said, adding that the mistake was probably made by accident by someone who isn’t familiar with the enrollment procedure.
Calls to the superintendent’s office were not immediately returned.
Cherry said she believes that no malice was intended and that the woman thought she was following rules.
Immigration status is an increasingly sensitive topic. President Donald Trump wants to add the question to the 2020 census, while opponents say asking for immigration status can create fear among immigrants living in the country illegally to refrain from reporting crimes because of fear of deportation among other potential repercussions.
“The idea is you don’t want to have a chilling effect on parents enrolling their kids in school whether they’re documented or not documented, and you can’t provide barriers to that, like asking for immigration status,” Yazbak said.