Undocumented immigration in the United States: Historical and legal context and the ethical practice of school psychology

Michael L. Sulkowski, Jaclyn N. Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Anti-immigrant sentiment, policy, and practice are deeply rooted in the US tradition. Because of this, a series of laws have been passed to restrict immigration, which has resulted in millions of children and families being designated as “undocumented”. These individuals reside in the US, yet do not receive the same protections as citizens. Schools, however, have historically been supportive institutions for undocumented children because of various laws and court decisions that uphold their access to a free and appropriate education. Various barriers exist to the successful implementation of these laws and they are often not followed. School psychologists, as professionals with an ethical responsibility to advocate for the well-being of all students and families—regardless of their immigration status—can help overcome these barriers. This article first reviews the historical and legal context surrounding undocumented immigration in the US as it impacts public K-12 education. Second, it details how ethical standards influence the applied practice of school psychology when working with undocumented students and families. Finally, it concludes with a brief discussion on resolving legal and ethical dilemmas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)388-405
Number of pages18
JournalSchool Psychology International
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • NASP Code of Ethics
  • Plyler v. Doe
  • unauthorized students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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