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LHSAA Lifts Ban on Immigrants Playing Prep Sports

Paul Steinbach

In a vote taken Friday at the Louisiana High School Athletics Association’s annual convention in Baton Rouge, member principals agreed to allow students to use either the Louisiana Student Secure ID or a special LHSAA-only number to register for teams, eliminating the requirement to produce a Social Security number and thus allowing some immigrant students to play high school sports.

According to The Hechinger Report, the association’s Rule 1.5.1 allowing only students with social security numbers to play had been in place for years. 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. But high school athletics associations are independent nonprofits, each with its own rules. 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, according to The Hechinger Report.

Opposition to Louisiana’s policy picked up steam after The Hechinger Report first wrote about it last November. Later that month, the ACLU of Louisiana and a Kenner, La.-based law firm demanded that the state overturn its policy or risk suit. New Orleans parent-advocacy group Our Voice Nuestra Voz mobilized, producing videos and petitions to challenge the rule.

In December, Morris Jeff Community High School Principal Margaret Leaf wrote a proposal suggesting the nonprofit athletic association also accept state student identification numbers. Louisiana principals approved an amended version of her proposal.

"It was a hard fight but a good victory," said Henry Jones, chief engagement officer for Nuestra Voz. "It's amazing to see people stand up and fight collectively, and demand Louisiana comply with federal law. It’s a real win for parents, teachers, and community members."

According to the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, it’s 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. The amendment passed by a 185-141 vote.

Said Rochelle Oden of Nuestra Voz, "Their civil rights were being violated, and we know how important sports are in order to keep students engaged in school."

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