ACLU-NJ Warns Schools Statewide to Stop Discriminatory ID Policies

April 1, 2014
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NEWARK -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) sent a letter (PDF) to 136 New Jersey school districts today advising them to change their discriminatory enrollment policies or face litigation.

The ACLU-NJ has identified 136 school districts that require overly restrictive forms of identification for an adult to enroll a child in school, contrary to state and federal law. Almost every New Jersey county had at least one school district with problematic identification guidelines, which tend to single out immigrant families. The ACLU-NJ’s website has a chart of every district identified.

"Time and again, courts have ruled that in a democratic society, the doors of public schools must be open for all children who live here," said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. "Yet we still see schools putting up unconstitutional barriers that single out some students as less worthy of an education than others. All New Jersey school districts must uphold our democratic ideals by letting all New Jersey children enroll in school, as the law requires."

The ACLU-NJ has given the school districts four weeks to reform their policies and practices before broaching the subject of litigation. The policies among the 136 districts varied widely in degree. Some districts requested both Social Security numbers and government-issued photo identification, a combination that plainly discriminates against children of undocumented parents. Other districts’ guidelines, such as those calling for photo ID without requiring that it be state-issued, also prevent or discourage undocumented parents from registering their children.

"These regulations may not have been issued with any intent to discriminate, but regardless of why these regulations were put in place, in practice they prevent some children from getting the education they’re entitled to by law," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. "All New Jersey school districts need to erase these policies from the books."

The policies that call for state-issued identification all require a Social Security number or valid immigration status, which singles out immigrant communities in particular as ineligible for enrollment in school. New Jersey law requires proof only of the child’s age and residency within the district. While school districts may require proof of residency, the Constitution and state regulations mandate that public schools provide equal access to students regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. Although the state Department of Education sends a semiannual reminder to school districts about enrollment requirements, nearly a quarter of public schools illegally ask for overly restrictive forms of identification.

The ACLU-NJ investigated the policies of school districts after residents of Butler in Morris County brought their school district’s restrictive ID policy to the ACLU-NJ’s attention. After forcing the ACLU-NJ to bring the matter to court, Butler agreed to institute nondiscriminatory enrollment policies that comport with the clearly established law. In following up after Butler, the ACLU-NJ learned of more school districts and identified 136 that have onerous identification requirements, including some of New Jersey’s largest cities.

The school districts of Jersey City, Trenton, Hamilton Township, Perth Amboy, Camden, Cherry Hill, East Orange, Montclair and Old Bridge, among the most populous municipalities in the state, all require IDs from families of prospective students that do not comply with state law. Bergen County had the highest number of school districts with restrictive ID policies, with 26 not complying. In 2011, the ACLU-NJ represented a resident of Bergen County who encountered difficulty enrolling his son in the Northern Valley Regional School District because of his status as an immigrant from Israel living in the United States on a visa. That school district now has an enrollment policy that does not discriminate against potential students based on their families’ immigration status.

"We were surprised by the number and broad range of school districts with restrictive, discriminatory enrollment policies," said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. "These policies exist in every almost county, from the poorest cities to the wealthiest suburbs, and everywhere in between. Clearly, the scale of this problem demands serious action, and serious self-examination among New Jersey school districts."

To see every New Jersey school district with a restrictive ID policy in place, read the ACLU-NJ’s findings online.

In 2008, the ACLU-NJ conducted rigorous telephone surveys of the more than 500 school districts in the state and discovered that 139 of them required documents that indicate immigration status, contrary to New Jersey regulations and the U.S. Constitution. Forty-six of these school districts still engage in discriminatory ID policies, according to the ACLU-NJ’s latest analysis.

"The Supreme Court ruled more than 30 years ago that all children have an equal right to a public school education, regardless of their immigration status," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. "We many never know how many children have been deprived of an education because of the failure of school districts to comply with constitutional requirements."

School District Drops Discriminatory Policy Upon ACLU-NJ Challenge

March 11, 2014
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Butler School District agrees in court to end policy that discriminates against immigrants that violated state laws and Constitution

The Morris County school district sued by the ACLU-NJ for refusing to end a policy that discriminated against immigrant families agreed today in court to stop requiring overly restrictive forms of identification for student enrollment, in accordance with the Constitution and established New Jersey law. The Butler School District said today in New Jersey Superior Court that as a result of the ACLU-NJ’s lawsuit, officials there will no longer fight changes to abandon its photo ID policy.

“We’re pleased that the Butler School District will finally change its policy to allow students to enroll without subjecting them to unlawful discrimination,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “We have said from the beginning that this issue should not have required intervention from a court, as the law unambiguously forbids barriers to children getting a public education based on immigration status.”

Butler’s policy called for parents to present forms of ID that they could obtain only with a Social Security number or valid immigration status, therefore singling out immigrant communities during public school registration. While school districts may require proof of residency, the Constitution and state regulations mandate that public schools provide equal access to students regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. Members of the Butler community contacted the ACLU-NJ to let them know of Butler’s barriers to enrollment, and when the school district said that it would not change the rule, the ACLU-NJ took the issue to court.

“Today’s agreement reaffirms the importance of our public schools in a healthy democracy and strong communities,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “These types of impermissible restrictions cause stress and fear in families. Thankfully, parents in Butler can breathe a sigh of relief this week during Butler’s enrollment period, knowing that their children will not be blocked from their constitutional right to an education. From a local court in Morris County to the highest court in the country, the law recognizes the essential function of educating every child in America, no matter what.”

In 2008, the ACLU-NJ conducted rigorous telephone surveys of the more than 500 school districts in the state and discovered that 139 of them (including Butler) required documents that indicate immigration status, contrary to New Jersey regulations and the U.S. Constitution. Officials from the New Jersey Department of Education now regularly remind school districts each semester of their obligation to enroll all local students, regardless of immigration status.

ACLU-NJ Sues Butler School District for Discriminating Against Immigrant Families

March 10, 2014
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NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a lawsuit on Friday, March 7, in New Jersey Superior Court against the Butler School District in Morris County, requesting an expedited hearing to halt the district from demanding parents present state- or county-issued photo ID to enroll their children in Butler public schools. The judge granted the hearing for Tues., March 11, at 9 a.m.

Because parents can only obtain the identification if they have a Social Security number or valid immigration status, Butler’s policy singles out immigrant communities in particular as ineligible for enrollment in school.  While school districts may require proof of residency, the Constitution and state regulations mandate that public schools provide equal access to students regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status.

"The Butler School District continues to stand by a policy that wrongly blocks certain children from the classroom based on the immigration status of their parents, even though the law unambiguously forbids it," said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. "Fortunately, most school districts operate within the bounds of established constitutional law, which for more than 30 years has upheld the right of all children to attend public schools, regardless of their background or origin."

On behalf of ACLU-NJ members directly affected by Butler’s policies, the ACLU-NJ seeks an emergency injunction to allow for their children’s enrollment during the enrollment period for the 2014-2015 school year, taking place between March 10 and March 14. When contacted with information that the photo identification requirement was unlawful, the Butler School District refused to rescind the rule.

In 2008, the ACLU-NJ conducted rigorous telephone surveys of the more than 500 school districts in the state and discovered that 139 of them (including Butler) required documents that indicate immigration status, contrary to New Jersey regulations and the U.S. Constitution. Officials from the New Jersey Department of Education, disturbed by the results of the ACLU-NJ study, now regularly remind school districts of their obligation to enroll all local students, regardless of immigration status.

"Because public schools play a fundamental role in strengthening our communities and our democracy, the New Jersey Constitution entitles all young residents to a public education regardless of where they or their parents were born," said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. "Requiring a parent’s photo ID is a needless barrier to an education that not only violates the Constitution, but also undermines the ideal that public schools serve all of the children in a community."

The case, captioned ACLU-NJ v. Butler Public School District, was filed March 7, 2014, in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Morris County. The hearing, MRS-C-42-14 on the docket, takes place in the same venue on Tues., March 11, at 9 a.m. before the Honorable Stephan C. Hansbury.

ACLU-NJ Statement on Judge’s Decision to Dismiss NYPD Surveillance Lawsuit

February 21, 2014
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NEWARK – U.S. district Judge William Martini on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the NYPD surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. The lawsuit, Hassan v. City of New York, was filed in 2012 by eight Muslim residents who alleged the NYPD’s surveillance programs were unconstitutional because they focused on religion, national origin and race.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the California-based civil rights organization Muslim Advocates represented the plaintiffs.

The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Udi Ofer

“The ACLU-NJ is highly disappointed in yesterday’s ruling by Judge Martini dismissing a challenge brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates against the New York City Police Department’s surveillance program targeting Muslims living in New Jersey. For years, the NYPD conducted secret intelligence gathering activities in New Jersey targeting Muslim community members based on their religious beliefs. The New Jersey public was kept in the dark during these investigations, which targeted New Jersey residents who engaged in no wrongdoing. The ACLU-NJ disagrees with Judge Martini’s decision and will support the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates as they appeal this decision.”

ACLU-NJ Statement on NJ DREAM Act Agreement

December 19, 2013
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Vows to continue to fight for true equality for New Jersey DREAMers

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) supports the passage of a bill that grants in-state tuition at public colleges to undocumented students who have gone to a New Jersey high school for at least three years and earned a high school diploma or GED in New Jersey. The bill also gives undocumented students a chance to apply for financial aid.

Gov. Chris Christie has agreed to sign the bill into law after removing a provision that allows undocumented students to apply for financial aid.

The following is a statement from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU-NJ:

Today is a historic day in New Jersey, but the fight is not over. We commend the state Assembly and Senate for announcing the imminent passage of the New Jersey Dream Act and recognizing that all hardworking students in New Jersey deserve equal access to a college education, regardless of their immigration status. Although undocumented immigrants will now qualify for in-state tuition, by vetoing access to financial aid, Gov. Chris Christie is preventing many students from being treated equally by New Jersey -- the state in which they pay taxes, have gone to school, and call home.

We are disappointed that Gov. Christie has indicated that he plans to conditionally veto a bill that would help end discrimination in access to higher education. More than 64 million people live in states that provide financial aid to students regardless of their immigration status. It is time for New Jerseyans to be afforded the same rights and benefits as tens of millions of other state residents across the nation.

Gov. Christie has said he supports tuition equality and that every child should have the opportunity to reach their potential. But his veto will put up a roadblock for many of New Jersey's best and brightest students who cannot afford the skyrocketing cost of a college education.

True equality means having an equal chance at having the same opportunities as one's peers – including the chance to apply for financial aid. While today we celebrate this important victory for New Jersey immigrant communities, we will continue to work with Dreamers, advocates and legislators to push for true equality.

ACLU-NJ Redoubles Support of Strong Tuition Equality Legislation

December 2, 2013
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ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer issues the following statement in light of Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement earlier today regarding tuition equality in New Jersey:

"The Governor’s statements today make clear that it’s past time for Governor Christie to come to the table and meet with Dreamers and advocates to ensure the strongest possible tuition equality bill is passed and signed this session. There remain many fundamental principles of agreement, and a few key differences to work through. It is important that New Jersey not make public policy decisions based on exceptions to the rule. We urge the Governor to focus on the immediate needs of New Jersey communities and to resist rejecting a critical policy reform that would help thousands of New Jerseyans based on the remote chance that the New Jersey Dream Act could potentially be misapplied."

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Giving thanks for defenders of civil liberties

November 27, 2013
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For Thanksgiving, we want to share with you our gratitude for a few New Jersey public servants who have proved to be champions of civil liberties this year.

Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson and the NJ Supreme Court

Mary Jacobson

Mary Jacobson

In September, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson made history with a decision declaring civil unions unconstitutional. Just a few weeks later, the NJ Supreme Court unanimously rejected Gov. Chris Christie's request to delay marriage equality. A few hours after the first marriages began at midnight on Oct. 21, Gov. Christie dropped his appeal. Judge Jacobson and the NJ Supreme Court – and, above all, the tireless advocates, especially Lambda Legal, Garden State Equality, and all of our partners in NJ United for Marriage – cleared the way for NJ to become the 14th state to recognize marriage equality.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and State Senators Teresa Ruiz, Nellie Pou and Sandra Cunningham, primary sponsors of the NJ Senate's Tuition Equality Act

Teresa Ruiz

Teresa Ruiz

After years of community and student activism, tremendous credit goes to these legislators for leading the charge for tuition equality in the NJ Senate. If enacted, the Tuition Equality Act (S2479) will allow undocumented NJ high school students who meet certain requirements to qualify for in-state tuition and financial aid opportunities. Gov. Christie announced support for tuition equality on the campaign trail, but then backtracked, saying the Senate's version of the bill "goes too far." We will keep pushing to end discrimination in access to higher education in NJ this year.

Senator Cory Booker and Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio

Cory Booker

Cory Booker

Just before Cory Booker left Newark to become the state's newest U.S. Senator, he and Police Director Samuel DeMaio instituted two measures to increase safety and protect civil liberties. First, the Newark Police Department (NPD) now publishes data about its use of "stop-and-frisk" tactics each month. Second, the NPD stopped honoring "ICE holds" – warrantless requests from federal immigration authorities to hold people in custody. These new policies increase accountability, transparency, and public safety.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop

Steven Fulop

Steven Fulop

Mayor Fulop signed a city ordinance requiring certain Jersey City businesses to give paid sick leave to employees, the first such policy in NJ. The ACLU-NJ believes that a person can only fully exercise their rights when basic needs are met. This policy helps make Jersey City a place where civil liberties can thrive.

These are only a few of the NJ officials who have stood out this year for their commitment to civil liberties. Do you know a public official who has shown outstanding commitment to civil liberties in 2013? Share them on the ACLU-NJ's Facebook page.

Above all, we're grateful for you this Thanksgiving and every day. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the ACLU of New Jersey!

ACLU-NJ Statement on Governor's Support of Tuition Equality

October 13, 2013
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Last night Gov. Chris Christie announced his support for the New Jersey Tuition Equality Act, which would provide greater access to higher education opportunities for New Jersey students.

The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey:

"We are very encouraged by Governor Christie's words in support of tuition equality. His announcement should give a boost to lawmakers from both parties to pass the Tuition Equality Act and send it to the Governor for his signature as soon as possible.

The ACLU of New Jersey will continue to stand with our partners in the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition to ensure that the Tuition Equality Act becomes law. We must put an end to the unequal treatment of undocumented immigrants seeking to enroll in New Jersey's colleges and universities. Equal access to an education is an imperative for all students who call our state home, regardless of their immigration status."

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Advocates Praise Newark Police’s Refusal to Honor ‘Immigration Holds’

August 15, 2013
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Order protects public safety and rights of immigrants by rejecting Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s requests to detain city residents without warrants or legal justification

NEWARK – Civil rights and faith leaders today applauded a groundbreaking policy change instituted by Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio to decline immigration detainers issued to the department by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). Under the policy change, the Newark Police Department will no longer honor ICE’s requests to hand over to immigration authorities Newarkers arrested for offenses as minor as shoplifting.

"Law enforcement officials across the country have recognized that local police officers should not be in the business of federal immigration enforcement,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. "With this new policy in place, the Newark Police Department has made it clear that all residents, regardless of their immigration status, are safe to cooperate with the police. This policy ensures that if you’re a victim of a crime, or have witnessed a crime, you can contact the police without having to fear deportation. This will make all Newarkers safer"

The general order, which went into effect July 24, makes Newark the latest American city to adopt a policy forbidding its officers from complying with a detainer request from ICE. Chicago, New York and New Orleans have also adopted policies. Immigration detainers are nonbinding requests issued without a warrant by ICE asking law enforcement to hold someone in custody on the federal immigration enforcement agency’s behalf. ICE sends detainers without probable cause, the legal standard required for an arrest. However, these nonbinding requests sow suspicion in communities of immigrants by discouraging cooperation with police and force police departments to reprioritize their spending, threatening public safety as a whole.

"We are thrilled that Newark is standing in solidarity with immigrant families by rejecting all future collaboration with the federal deportation apparatus," said Emily Tucker, Staff Attorney at the Center for Popular Democracy. "Spending local tax dollars to take parents away from their children and workers away from their jobs is both morally wrong and bad for the economy. We hope the Newark policy will serve as a model for the rest of New Jersey, and for cities around the country who don't want local resources being spent to help ICE meet its arbitrary enforcement quotas."

The new policy means the city will not have to shoulder the additional cost of holding people without warrants at the behest of ICE. The order aims to protect public safety, as community members will not have to fear that cooperating with the police or reporting a crime will land them in immigration detention. The Newark Police Department will still report information to ICE upon the arrest of an individual, but nothing legally compels local law enforcement agencies to respond to requests to detain immigrants for ICE.

"We are heartened by this vital and healthy relationship between the Newark police and the many immigrant communities within the city of Newark,” said Father Tim Graff, Director of Human Concerns with the Archdiocese of Newark. “The directive signals the beginning of a collaborative effort to improve confidence in law enforcement among our parishioners.”

“This policy is absolutely essential in a city like Newark, where trust between local law enforcement and the community is crucial to protecting public safety,” said the Rev. Karl Esker of St. James Church in Newark and the head of Justice for Immigrants Campaign of the Newark Archdiocese. “We thank Director DeMaio for his leadership on this issue, and look forward to working as partners in strengthening the relationship between law enforcement and Newark’s immigrant community. In the last several years, the federal government has increasingly relied on local law enforcement to funnel immigrants into the detention and deportation dragnet through problematic information-sharing initiatives that devastate the stability of communities.”

Supporters of the policy include New Jersey Communities United, the Center for Popular Democracy, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program, Newark Archdiocese Department of Social Concerns, St. James Church, St. Lucy 's Church, St. Anne's Church, Church of the Transfiguration, and New Labor.

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ACLU-NJ Statements on NYPD Surveillance and Tuition

June 17, 2013
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NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) is monitoring several pieces of legislation that are before the New Jersey Legislature today.

The following statements are from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, about those bills.

Udi Ofer

Reporting Requirements for Counter-Terrorism Investigations (Senate Bill No. 2311)

"For years, the NYPD conducted secret intelligence gathering activities in New Jersey targeted at Muslim community members who engaged in no wrongdoing. The New Jersey public was kept in the dark during these investigations, which targeted New Jersey residents based on their religious beliefs. Senate Bill No. 2311 will ensure that the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies will be unable to conduct their operations in our state without informing New Jersey law enforcement officials of their activities. While such a step is welcomed, it will not in-and-of-itself address the problem of NYPD operations in our state. At the very least, any bill that passes the state legislature should also include a requirement that the public be kept informed, in a manner that protects the integrity of legitimate law enforcement investigations, of any NYPD and other intelligence gathering operations in our state, particularly those operations that implicate First Amendment rights."

Tuition Equality Act (Assembly Bill No. 4225)

"The ACLU-NJ strongly supports the Tuition Equality Act. The time has come for New Jersey to end its unequal treatment of undocumented immigrants seeking to enroll in New Jersey’s colleges and universities. More than three decades ago, the United States Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, held that undocumented students must be given equal access to a public school education. Yet in New Jersey today, undocumented students who graduate from our high schools and wish to attend our state colleges or universities are forced to pay much higher rates – in some cases more than twice as much – than their classmates for no other reason than their status as undocumented immigrants. This form of unequal access and unequal treatment must end. The New Jersey Legislature should ensure equal access to all students who call our state home, regardless of their immigration status, and pass A-4225."