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Vanished classmates: The effects of immigration enforcement on school enrollment

July 02, 2019

Main Findings:

  • Partnerships between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police departments designed to enforce immigration laws reduced the number of Hispanic students in U.S. public schools in adopting counties by 10 percent after two years.

  • Partnerships enacted during 2000 to 2011 displaced about 320,000 Hispanic students, with the impact concentrated among elementary school students, most of whom were likely born in the United States.

  • This evidence is based on data from a period when federal support for ICE partnerships with local police was more limited than in recent years. The increased number of new ICE partnerships with local police under the Trump administration suggests that their current educational, economic, and social costs may be even more severe.


  • Using data acquired from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through Freedom of Information Act requests, researchers Thomas Dee and Mark Murphy, both of Stanford University, identified 55 counties in the United States where ICE partnerships with local law-enforcement agencies designed to identify, arrest, and remove undocumented residents were put into place between 2000 and 2011.

  • These partnerships led to a 10 percent reduction in Hispanic student enrollment following two years of implementation. The reduction appeared to be concentrated among the youngest students. The authors note that most of the impacted students with an undocumented parent are themselves U.S. citizens.

  • The authors estimate that during the period studied, ICE partnerships displaced approximately 320,000 Hispanic students, by encouraging families to leave and discouraging other families from coming in. In contrast, ICE partnerships did not affect non-Hispanic enrollment.

  • "Our results underscore the dramatic and presumably unintended consequences of ICE partnerships for students and schools," said Thomas Dee, the Barnett Family Professor at Stanford University. "Prior research clearly suggests that causing families to move under duress or dropping out of school harms students, while inhibiting family moves that would enhance economic opportunity can also be detrimental."

  • The authors note that students may have been further harmed academically to the extent that ICE partnerships decreased parental involvement with their schools.

  • The authors found that at the same time that ICE partnerships reduced the Hispanic presence in public schools they did not lower student-teacher ratios or the share of remaining public school students who were disadvantaged (as measured by their eligibility for the National School Lunch Program).

  • "Our finding on student-teacher ratios suggests that schools hired fewer teachers as a result of the enrollment declines," said Dee. "Our finding on the share of disadvantaged students enrolled suggests either that the affected Hispanic students were not concentrated among low-income families, or that the displaced Hispanic students were more disadvantaged but the ICE partnerships also harmed local economic activity, lowering the family incomes of remaining students."

  • "It's important to note that our findings are based on data from 2000 to 2011 when these ICE partnerships received measured support from the Bush and Obama administrations," said Mark Murphy, a PhD candidate at Stanford University. "Given the recent support for the rapid expansion of such partnerships under the Trump administration, these results have contemporary policy relevance."

  • The authors note that according to Executive Order 13767, issued by President Donald Trump on January 25, 2017, the adoption of new ICE partnerships were to be enacted with immediacy and, according to Trump, "to the maximum extent permitted by law."

  • "The number of ICE partnerships has increased dramatically during the Trump administration," said Murphy. "ICE currently has 90 active agreements with local law-enforcement agencies. The increased scale of these 'reverse sanctuary' policies suggests that their educational, economic, and social costs may be even more severe. We hope to extend our research to study the impact of the most recent ICE partnerships as well."
Periodically, AERA will issue a brief overview, or snapshot, of a recent study that has been published in one of its peer-reviewed journals. AERA "Study Snapshots" provide a high-level glimpse into new education research.

Study: "Vanished Classmates: The Effects of Local Immigration Enforcement on School Enrollment"

Authors: Thomas Dee (Stanford University), Mark Murphy (Stanford University)

Published online July 2, 2019, in the American Educational Research Journal, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

To talk to the study authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications,, (202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell); Collin Boylin, Communications Associate,, (202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell).

To browse more recent AERA-published research, click here.

About AERA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Collin Boylin,
(202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell)

American Educational Research Association

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