(CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed lawsuits against 12 of the state’s school districts Thursday, claiming their policy of requiring parents to have state-issued IDs to enroll their children discriminates against immigrants.
“New Jersey’s state Constitution calls for free public education, and that applies to every single child – no exceptions,” ACLU-NJ staff attorney Elyla Huertas, who filed the lawsuits in New Jersey Superior Court, said in a statement Thursday.
The group wants the court to block the districts’ driver’s license policies, which require a parent or guardian attempting to enroll a child to have a state-issued ID. Such identification requires citizenship or a Social Security number, which the ACLU claims blocks access for undocumented immigrants.
With nearly 2 million of its approximately 9 million residents foreign-born, New Jersey has the fifth-largest immigrant population in the country.
“In a state where one in five residents is foreign-born, at a time when our president has made the exclusion of immigrants a key part of his policy agenda, it’s more important than ever for every school district in New Jersey to meet its obligations, both to New Jersey’s families and to the Constitution,” Huertas said.
The lawsuits cite the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe: “Federal constitutional law is neither new nor unsettled: the right to a free public education cannot be conditioned on the immigration status of children or their parents,” says the complaint against Northern Valley Regional High School District.
The defendant districts are located in Bergen, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties and are mostly public, though the ACLU says it did sue one charter school district.
The group focused on the districts with the “most restrictive policies,” it said in a press release.
“This action is brought to vindicate the constitutional rights of residents of Bellmawr, Camden County, New Jersey, whose children will be denied access to free, public education in their local school because of their parents’ immigration status. It is part of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey’s mission to ensure that the constitutional and statutory rights of children of immigrants to obtain an education are not infringed,” says one of the lawsuits, which adds it is “impermissible” for school officials to require a parent attempting to enroll their child to have a valid driver’s license.
Hudson, Somerset and Sussex counties – all of which are home to defendant districts — have seen some of the highest jumps in their immigration populations in the state since 2012, according to Census data.
Bellmawr School District, a defendant in one of the suits, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Neither did Northern Valley Regional High School District, another defendant.