Expert Commentary

Hispanic student enrollment falls when ICE partners with local law enforcement

Hispanic student enrollment fell in counties where local law enforcement agencies partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to find and remove people not authorized to be in the U.S., a new paper finds.

Empty classroom
(Feliphe Schiarolli/Unsplash)

Hispanic student enrollment fell in counties where local law enforcement agencies partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identify and remove people not authorized to be in the United States, according to a new paper from researchers at Stanford University.

These voluntary partnerships reduced the number of Hispanic children enrolled in public schools by almost 10 percent within two years, the researchers find. They estimate that more than 300,000 Hispanic students were displaced by ICE partnerships forged before 2012 “due to the outflow of threatened families as well as the inhibited inflow of potential new families.”

Authors Thomas Dee, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and Mark Murphy, a doctoral candidate there, find that drops in enrollment were concentrated among elementary school students, many of whom are American citizens with at least one parent living in the U.S. illegally. Such families are referred to as “mixed-status” families.

In 2012, an estimated 305,000 children were born to women who are in the U.S. without legal permission, comprising 8 percent of all births that year, data from the Pew Research Center show. Children born in the U.S. are granted citizenship, regardless of their parents’ nationality.

“Mixed-status families with young children may be uniquely likely to move in response to an enforcement threat for a variety of reasons,” the authors write in their working paper, released in September 2018 by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“Parents often see moving younger children as easier to move and undocumented parents of younger children may be particularly concerned about the fate of their younger children if they are apprehended for an immigration violation.”

For the study, Dee and Murphy collected data on the 168 counties where a local law enforcement agency submitted a partnership application to the federal government between 2000 and 2011 — when these partnerships first proliferated. The researchers also collected student enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The authors looked at whether and how student enrollment changed in the 55 counties where partnerships were approved and in the counties where partnership applications were rejected or withdrawn or had not yet been approved.

Among their other key findings:

  • Partnerships with ICE do not appear to affect enrollment among non-Hispanic students.
  • The authors found no evidence that ICE partnerships reduced pupil-teacher ratios or the proportion of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school.
  • “The literature on student mobility, in combination with the results we report here, suggest that ICE partnerships are harmful to Hispanic children … However, in theory, there might be some benefits to the communities that introduce this policy. For example, the reduction in student enrollments may result in more resources for remaining students. Furthermore, the reduction in enrollment may raise the socioeconomic status of the remaining students’ ”


Other resources for journalists writing about this topic:

  • A 2016 report from the Pew Research Center looks at the number of babies born in the U.S. to unauthorized immigrants over time.
  • A 2017 report from the S. Department of Homeland Security estimates that 12.1 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the U.S. as of January 2014 — up from 11.6 million in 2010 and 10.5 million in 2005.
  • A 2018 report from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates public schools are serving a growing number of English Language Learners (ELLs), or students who are not proficient in English. The percentage of students who were ELLs in late 2015 ranged from 1 percent in West Virginia to 21 percent in California. The primary language of the vast majority of ELLs is Spanish.

Looking for more research on Hispanic immigrants? Check out our write-ups on food stamp use among Mexican immigrants, unaccompanied migrant children and the  effectiveness of U.S.-Mexico border enforcement. We’ve also created a primer on DACA and the DREAM Act and a tip sheet on covering Latino immigrants.