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Immigrant Students Score Victory, Can Play on High School Teams

6 Feb, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Controversial Ruling Could Have Impact on Travel Sports

In a decision sure to stir controversy in the current political climate, immigrant students in Louisiana who lack governmentally-issued Social Security numbers will be allowed to play high school sports. Expect other states to follow and expect fallout to reach the travel sports level as well.

According to Athletic Business, a vote taken recently at the high school association’s annual convention in Baton Route resulted in the association allowing students to use either the Louisiana Student Secure ID or a social LHSAA-only number to register for teams.

The measure passed, after a hard fight on both sides, 185-141.

The Hechinger Report noted that the previous policy allowed only students with Social Security numbers to play. Since 1982, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, ordered the Tyler, Texas, school district to allow undocumented students to enroll, federal law has required public schools to educate all students, no matter their immigration status. However, high school athletic associations were viewed as independent nonprofits and each was allowed to make its own rules as to whether immigrant students were eligible to play to school-sponsored teams.

The Hechinger Report notes, “Few states have explicit policies concerning undocumented student-athletes, but several allow students to play, whether they’re U.S. citizens or not. Before this week, Louisiana’s rule was one of the most restrictive. Florida requires immigrant students to present official U.S. Customs forms, and Mississippi only allows students who aren’t U.S. citizens to play if they are official foreign exchange students.”

Additional reports noted that some states, including South Dakota, Washington and Georgia, students who are eligible for school are eligible for sports, provided their grades are good enough.

“In terms of undocumented or refugee children, we would treat them the same as any other child,” said Dan Swartos, the executive director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association. “They’d be eligible at the first school they enroll at following the move to the community.”

Some states allow students arriving from other countries to play after a yearlong waiting period.

SDM Reader Poll: Do you think event owners should be able to require citizenship in order for youth athletes to participate? Vote here!

Originally, Louisiana saw schools find a way around the Social Security number mandate by offering unsanctioned teams as a means of welcoming immigrant students to the game; however, it was not long until legal challenges arose and the issue escalated to the state athletic association level. The crux of the matter was the fact that it conflicted with federal law: according to the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, it is unlawful for any federal, state or local government agency to deny anyone any right for failing to disclose a social security number, as reported by WAFB in Baton Rouge.

Expect challenges in other states, based on the developments in Louisiana.

Travel teams and tournaments that welcome international participation have long stood apart from high school sports; an explanation of the various travel visas that affect athlete participation can be found in this article in Sports Destination Management. (Note: Information on obtaining passports to play outside the U.S. can be found here).

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