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Civil Rights Commission Chairman Martin R. Castro criticizes schools not enrolling undocumented children

Martin R. Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission

Martin R. Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in an undated photograph. Credit: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

CHICAGO - A top federal civil rights official criticized school districts Saturday who have been slow to enroll recent waves of undocumented refugee children from Central and South America.

Martin R. Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, took aim at districts such as Hempstead.

“Every child, regardless of their immigration status…is entitled to a free public primary education and secondary education,” he said, citing a federal court case.

The Hempstead district, along with others across the country, has been accused by immigrant rights groups of failing to admit children who recently entered the United States illegally.

New York State has investigated and attorney general Eric Schneiderman reached a settlement with Hempstead schools. An independent monitor was hired earlier this month.

Hempstead schools officials have denied charges of discrimination. They have said the district lacked the space and resources to educate the influx of children.

Castro, speaking to business journalists here, said it was “a common misperception” that undocumented children aren’t entitled to a public school education.

He also said the children’s “due process rights” in the deportation process are being trampled upon.

Hearing notices aren’t being received and representation by attorneys is rare, leading to more deportations of children.

“Many of them have been deported,” Castro told the Society of American Business Editors and Writers convention. “Many of them are awaiting their hearing and while they are, one of the benefits they are entitled to is a free public education.”

He said the civil rights commission will tour immigration detention centers in Texas next week to investigate reports of sexual abuse of refugee children.

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