How 300,000 Hispanic Students ‘Vanished’ From U.S. School Rolls

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Sign at an August 2018 Chicago rally in support of a “Safe Zone” bill to develop policies for courthouses, schools, libraries, medical facilities and shelters on how to handle ICE activities at their locations. Photo by Charles Edward Miller via Flickr.

Why have more than 300,000 Hispanic students “vanished” from public school rolls in 55 counties across the United States?

A recent working paper conducted for the National Bureau of Economic Research says the missing students were all in schools where local police partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the 1996 federal 287(g) program, and argues that expanded local immigration enforcement has accounted for an almost 10 percent decrease in Hispanic enrollment in schools over the past two years.

An overwhelming number of those students—most of them in elementary schools—are American citizens, according to the study authors, Thomas Dee, a Stanford University professor, and Mark Murphy, a graduate student at Stanford.

“(Our) results provide strikingly consistent and robust evidence that ICE partnerships led to meaningful reduction in Hispanic enrollment in public schools,” they wrote.

“The literature on student mobility, in combination with the results we report here, suggest that ICE partnerships are harmful to Hispanic children (i.e., causing reactive mobility and inhibiting strategic mobility).”

The authors based their conclusions on county-year panel data for the period from 2000 through 2011, obtained from the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) annual Common Core of Data (CCD), and statistics about local law enforcement-immigration partnerships from the Department of Homeland Security between 2000 and 2011. In the 55 counties whose applications for ICE partnerships were approved, Hispanic student enrollment decreased by 7.3 percent.

Conversely, non-Hispanic enrollment was largely unaffected. Researchers did not find benefits to the decrease in Hispanic students, such as lower student-teacher ratios in classrooms.

According to the study, more aggressive ICE strategies to identify undocumented immigrants may lead to an increase in dropout risk, lower student achievement and mental health issues. Ultimately, many families are simply driven to flee their school districts, particularly when a member of a family is undocumented, the authors said.

Many Hispanic students in the counties studied are citizens, but one or more of their parents are not.

The study focused on how ICE partnerships with local police—a practice that has been expanding since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2001—affect school populations.

They argued that lower enrollment by Hispanic students may lead to developmental issues for students affected as well as decreased diversity experience for remaining students, while noting that student mobility, when made purposefully, can be educationally helpful.

“In particular, the literature clearly suggests that causing “reactive” mobility (i.e. moves under duress) or dropping out of school harms students, while inhibiting moves towards economic opportunity can also be detrimental,” the authors concluded.

Students in counties partnered with ICE, almost all U.S. citizens, were encouraged not to return or to leave school, often for fear of exposing undocumented relatives.

“The enforcement-induced changes we observe in local Hispanic student enrollment would reflect the displacement of such children due to the outflow of threatened families as well as the inhibited inflow of potential new families,” the authors wrote.

Displaced students do not benefit from their movement out of school under duress. Neither do the students that remain.

The study looked both at the effects on Hispanic enrollment and the impact on non-Hispanic enrollment as well. ICE-partnerships did not have a significant impact on non-Hispanic enrollment, pupil-teacher ratios or the number of remaining students qualifying for National School Lunch Program (often used as an indicator of poverty).

The full study can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Lauren Sonnenberg. Readers’ comments are welcome.