Child's Immigration Question Raises Dilemma
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
There was Michelle Obama with the first lady of Mexico at a suburban Maryland elementary school. One second-grader told the first lady, and I quote, "My Mom says that Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn't have papers."
MICHELLE OBAMA: Unidentified Child: No paper.
OBAMA: Yeah, well, we have to...
SIEGEL: Well, joining us to talk about the legal issues surrounding the incident is Crystal Williams, who is executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Welcome to the program.
CRYSTAL WILLIAMS: Thank you.
SIEGEL: What's the school's responsibility in this case?
WILLIAMS: The school's responsibility is to educate that child. The school has no other responsibilities. It's not required to turn the child or her mother in. It's not required to do anything by way of enforcing immigration laws. Its mission is to educate children, and that's what it's required to do here.
SIEGEL: We should add here, it's perfectly possible that this girl is legally here, could be a citizen of the United States even though her mother, she says, doesn't have papers. What if there's some consent form signed by that parent at the school, something that's been required of her, is the school obliged to verify that the person signing that form is doing so completely legally?
WILLIAMS: In the state of Maryland, really in every state except possibly Arizona, the school has no obligation to pursue anybody's legal immigration status. And in fact, immigration status is something that schools are obligated not to look at under a 1982 Supreme Court decision, Plyler versus Doe.
SIEGEL: What about ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Do they have an obligation to, now that they've been given a lead on the nation's media and on YouTube, do they have an obligation to go after this kid's mother?
WILLIAMS: ICE could go after this kid's mother, but they don't have an obligation to do it. They have something called prosecutorial discretion, police discretion. They can choose, for whatever variety of reasons, and there's a lot of good reasons here, not to pursue any given lead or any given case.
SIEGEL: All of this gets to an awkward situation for many Americans. We know that there are several million people living in the country and have no legal basis for doing so. On the other hand - and that may disturb a great many people. The same people, though, are not rushing to turn in the gardener or the person who lives down the block or their child's friends at schools' parent or whatever. But what if other people did? What if people said, hey, there's a kid in the school, my daughter's class, the mother doesn't belong here? If they went to ICE, would ICE be obliged to act on it?
WILLIAMS: At the bottom of their list would be somebody who has U.S. citizen children, who is living their lives in the United States quietly and just trying to make a better life for their families.
SIEGEL: Well, Crystal Williams, thank you very much for talking with us.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
SIEGEL: And Crystal Williams is executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
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