Critical Mass: Overcrowding and the Immigration Myth

Spanish Springs High School
Image: SOS Washoe

According to the most recent report from the Pew Research Center, Nevada has the highest number of “unauthorized immigrants” at 7.2 percent of our population. Pew further estimates that 17.7 percent of Nevada students have at least one unauthorized parent living in the U.S. or one in every 5.65 students. The report also notes that Nevada’s unauthorized population has decreased from 230,000 in 2009 to 210,000.

On the surface, it isn’t difficult for those opposed to “illegal immigration” to draw a parallel between the school overcrowding problem in Washoe and the issue of our undocumented population.

It’s difficult to remember sometimes that Washoe County is a small fish in a big pond and the Pew Study is focused on the pond. There are approximately 2.84 million people residing in the entire state of Nevada today; 2.028 million live in Clark County alone. Only 433,731 Nevadans live in Washoe, just 15.5 percent of the state’s population.

So how does that 17.7 percent break down for us?  What would the scenario be if the district, as some have suggested, removed all of those “unauthorized” kids from our schools?

Studies from the Migration Policy Institute state that the population of unauthorized immigrants is estimated to be 113,000 in Clark County and 18,000 in Washoe County. Based on the 210,000 provided by Pew, that means that 53.8 percent  of those undocumented immigrants in Nevada live in Clark County. Only 8.5 percent live in Washoe and the remaining 37.6 percent live in other Nevada counties.

With over half of the state’s “illegal immigrants”, it stands to reason that Clark parents would also account for the highest number. Washoe therefore has a smaller proportion, which would be approximately three to five percent, 2,000-3,000 or one in 20 students with at least one parent who is undocumented.

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In Washoe, 22 of our schools are already over capacity. The district enrollment count for 2016-2017 is 63,670, but the district’s overall capacity is roughly 56,000. Even if you don’t take into account the 1,000-1,500 students our schools are expected to gain annually, you don’t need to be a math genius to see the answer. The removal of students with an unauthorized parent won’t have a noticeable effect on our overcrowding situation. It would only have a noticeable effect on them.

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About Michelle Beck 12 Articles
Michelle is a native Nevadan that grew up in Reno and has lived in Sparks for the last 20 years. She has 10 years experience as a volunteer and leader with several children's and parental organizations, four years on the Nevada State PTA executive board and two years as a member of the WCSD Parent Involvement Council. She has written articles for state and national PTA as well as two local magazines. She now runs a home business, fundraises for local charities, is a cheer mom and mother of a soon to be freshman at UNLV.


  1. It’s also important to note (unless I missed it somewhere) that the WCSD cannot legally track “illegal” students. They are required to take all resident students in their zoned schools, regardless of citizenship. People making those arguments need to understand that. It falls on deaf ears, of course, but it is true.

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