ROCKVILLE, Md. - How many students are currently in our classrooms that have entered the United States illegally? It is a question that many parents are asking following the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School.
Two undocumented immigrant students, 18-year-old Henry Sanchez and 17-year-old Jose Montano, have been charged with the daytime assault inside the school.
Montgomery County Public Schools officials have pointed out they are legally required to educate all students, even those who are in the country illegally. A landmark decision in the case of Plyler v. Doe by the Supreme Court in 1982 determined that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on the account of their immigration status, which was cited by Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Jack Smith as he was questioned at a news conference on Tuesday about why Sanchez and Montano were attending school in the county.
"Plyler v. Doe asked the question whether the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, where it says that no person shall be denied equal protection under the law," said Virginia Del. Mark Levine, a former congressional attorney. "There are certain rights we have as citizens and there are certain rights we have as persons. Since people that are here, whether they are documented or not are persons, they are allowed equal protections under the law. If the law requires that all children under a certain age be schooled, they are persons and they are schooled as well. The Supreme Court goes on to say if we were to treat them unfairly or differently, there would actually be consequences, not just for them, but for society. The heart of the issue is equal protection."
In the wake of the Rockville High School rape case, immigration reform advocates said it is increasingly difficult for parents to get a clear picture of what is going on in their children's schools.
"The schools are in a pickle," said Bob Dane, executive director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). "On one hand, they have got a legal obligation to give a public education to all kids, even illegal aliens whose criminal histories may not be known. On the other hand, they have a moral obligation to keep their classrooms safe. But the federal government has to do its job in securing the borders and deport people who don't belong here."
The problem is widespread across the D.C. region and the numbers are eye-opening. Here is a breakdown of unaccompanied minors from Oct. 2016 through Jan. 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' website:
- District of Columbia - 201
- Montgomery County - 556
- Anne Arundel County - 114
- Baltimore County - 175
- Frederick County - 80
- Howard County - 55
- Prince George's County - 732
- Baltimore City - 189
- Arlington County - 97
- Chesterfield County - 116
- Fairfax County - 671
- Henrico County - 57
- Loudoun County - 104
- Prince William County - 251
- Alexandria City - 132
- Manassas City - 53
- Richmond City - 126
To groups like FAIR, these numbers give you an idea of influx of undocumented children that are winding up in communities in the D.C. area.
Experts say because these students are undocumented, there is no way to know how old they actually are. They also point out U.S. immigration officials are often unable to access accurate records or birth certificates as proof of an individual's real age.
"These guys probably came in the recent flow of unaccompanied minors and then made the calculated decision to make a beeline for Montgomery County," said Dane. "Why? Because that is the place that offers the most benefits to illegal aliens and asks the least amount of questions."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told FOX 5 that Sanchez, one of the suspects charged in the rape at Rockville High School, was encountered by a border patrol agent in Rio Valley Grande, Texas, in August of 2016. It was determined he entered the United States from Mexico illegally. Sanchez was issued a notice to appear in front of an immigration judge, but that hearing has not been scheduled.
On Wednesday, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly requesting information about the suspects charged in the Rockville High School case.