Education Rights of Recently Arrived Unaccompanied Immigrant Children and Youth


There is growing concern surrounding a recent influx of children from Central America who have illegally crossed the U.S. – Mexico border. Over a period of about 10 months, ending mid-August 2014, more than 55,000 unaccompanied children had crossed the border and were referred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). That’s more than double the number of such children that were apprehended for all of 2013. Under U.S. law, the HHS is required to care for unaccompanied children that cross the border into the U.S.. These children are typically placed in an HHS shelter, where they are not enrolled in public schools, but are provided educational services by the HHS shelter providers. Later, they may be released to an appropriate sponsor, usually a parent, relative, or family friend. While residing with their sponsor, these children are eligible to enroll and receive educational services though the public school system.

This surge in unaccompanied children from Central America illegally crossing the U.S. – Mexico border has resulted in an increase of inquiries to the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice (USED and DOJ) regarding various issues, include the rights these children have to public education. According to U.S. law and associated court cases, such as Plyler v. Doe, all children in the U.S. have a right to public education regardless of their or their parents’ actual or perceived national origin, citizenship, or immigration status.

In response, TransACT Communications has reviewed, updated and posted its updated Plyler letter for school and district staff that is found in the GenEd collection/School, Office & Classroom folder, Front Office Admin section. The letter now has up-to-date information as well as the links provided below.

The USED and DOJ have issued an updated, joint Dear Colleague letter, dated May 8, 2014 and available at:

In addition, the USED has posted guidance and questions/answers on its web site at:

A Frequently Asked Questions document at:

And two Fact Sheets at:
Fact Sheet #1
Fact Sheet #2

For more information about the GenEd Collection, click here.

Dr. David Holbrook

About The Author

Dr. David Holbrook is a nationally recognized leader in federal programs administration and monitoring with expertise in Title I, Title III, Native American Education, and Federal Programs. Dr. Holbrook has also worked as a consultant with Title III of the US Department of Education and now serves as Executive Director, Federal Compliance and State Relationships with TransAct.