By Mary Wisniewski
(Reuters) - The Obama administration on Thursday issued a stern warning to U.S. state and local school districts not to deny enrollment to undocumented immigrant children.
In a joint letter, the U.S. Education and Justice departments said they had become aware of student enrollment practices "that may chill or discourage" participation of students based on their or their parents' "actual or perceived immigration status."
"These practices contravene Federal law," the letter said.
The letter, which updates 2011 guidelines, did not single out districts for criticism. However, practices at some of the nation's districts have been targeted by immigration rights advocates in recent years.
For example, a 2011 Alabama law required the state's schools to get information on immigration status from students and parents. Courts blocked the statute, but meanwhile it reportedly caused some immigrant families to keep their children out of school.
Thursday's letter cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 1982 ruling in Plyler v. Doe, which found that citizen status is irrelevant to the student's right to an elementary and secondary education.
The letter also stressed that districts must not request information from parents and students with the intent or result of denying access to schools based on race, color or nationality, and spelled out what is and is not acceptable.
For example, a district may ask for proof of residency in a district by requesting utility bills. But a district may not bar a student from school because he or she lacks a birth certificate, or has a foreign birth certificate. Schools also cannot require students or parents to provide Social Security numbers, the letter said.
(Editing by Ken Wills)