Schools as Sanctuaries? Examining the Relationship between Immigration Enforcement and Attendance Rates for Immigrant-Origin Children in the United States

Year: 2018

Author: Sattin-Bajaj, Carolyn, Kirksey, Jacob

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Schools are at the forefront of the immigration crisis in the U.S. Three-quarters of a million children under the age of 18, are living in the United States without formal legal status and approximately 5.5 million children enrolled in public and private K-12 schools in the United States are living with at least one undocumented parent.  
Living undocumented or in mixed-status families can have a dramatic effect on children’s school engagement and educational outcomes. Yet, there are large gaps in our knowledge about the factors that produce these educational consequences for children. Given convincing evidence about the significance of school attendance for students’ long-term academic success overall, attendance is a particularly useful data point to examine to understand how immigration enforcement may relate to school engagement.  
In this paper, we use data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (ECLS-K: 2011) to examine first- and second-generation immigrant students’ school attendance. We also leverage data from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in 2010 and 2011 to generate variables reflecting local arrests by ICE agents. With these data, we ask:

What is the association between arrests carried out by ICE and immigrant-origin student absences in kindergarten?
Do these associations differ based on school-level characteristics?

We analyze the data using hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) techniques. In all models, an increase in the number of arrests by a child’s nearest immigration enforcement jurisdiction associated with a decrease in absenteeism in kindergarten. Children from immigrant families were less likely to be chronically absent with a larger number of arrests. We interpret these findings to suggest that under certain conditions—specifically, when immigration enforcement policies are guided by humanitarian concerns such as family ties in the U.S. —schools may be perceived by families as sanctuaries, at least for children in kindergarten.
To explore potential heterogeneity in the relationship between enforcement activities and school absenteeism by geographic region, we examined whether these association were consistent for a small, urban California school district during the 2013-17 school years. Using similar modeling techniques, we found that each documented ICE raid in the residential areas of the school district was associated with two additional days absent from school for every student in the school district. The association was particularly pronounced for migrant students, Hispanic students, and during the 2016-17 school year—the first year when ICE operated under the Trump administration.