- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Educating illegal immigrants in public schools costs states at least $7.4 billion annually, according to a study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform that argues American children are being hurt by the drain on resources.

“Illegal immigration is no free lunch,” said Dan Stein, executive director of FAIR. “It’s about shifting burdens — lowering labor costs at a tremendous cost not only to American taxpayers but to American kids.”

California spends an estimated $2.2 billion annually — more than any other state — to educate illegal immigrant children. Texas and New York rank second and third, respectively.

The report’s authors used the Urban Institute’s estimate of 1.1 million illegal immigrant schoolchildren in the United States, then broke that down by state using the Census Bureau’s estimate for illegal immigrants per state.

The costs are based on per-pupil averages and don’t account for extra costs of providing English as a second language classes, nor do they account for disparities of per-pupil costs in different counties in a state.

Mr. Stein said the money used to pay for illegal immigrants’ education should be used to meet the needs of children here legally, and the report detailed how individual states could use the money to offset current budget shortfalls.

Melissa Lazarin, education policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group for Hispanic-Americans, said FAIR’s estimate for illegal immigrant children is “really a very small slice” of the overall cost of education, which the Department of Education figures is more than $700 billion annually.

“We just don’t feel this is something we should be quibbling over,” she said. “We actually feel it behooves us to invest in the education of these children because we feel we have a much better return on this small investment.

“These are students that grew up in this country, that consider themselves American, that speak English, that have the persistence to go on to college, that want to give back to their communities,” she said.

Jim Ferg-Cadima, legislative staff lawyer at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the issue of immigrants’ rights to education has been settled.

“Regardless of what the dollar figure is, these children have a right to an education,” he said. “The issue was litigated all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court decided on the issue.”

In the 1982 decision, Plyler v. Doe, the court said the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment means that if schools offer public education to any student they must offer it to all students. The court also ruled that students have no control over their immigration status and can’t be punished for their parents’ decisions to move illegally.

Mr. Stein said he believes the 5-4 decision was wrong, but beyond that it is being misinterpreted by many schools to justify shielding families of illegal immigrant students from detection.

The solution, he said, is for the federal government to enforce immigration laws.

Several states have sued the federal government to try to force it to pay for costs associated with illegal aliens, including education and incarceration. They argued that the federal government is responsible for failed border enforcement and immigration policies.

In 1999, the president of the school board in Anaheim, Calif., proposed sending a bill to Mexico for illegal immigrants who attended schools in the jurisdiction.

Hispanic activists and other opponents called the move political grandstanding and accused the school board president of racism. They filed dozens of lawsuits against him for violation of children’s civil rights and misuse of tax dollars. The board did not pursue the policy after being told it violated international conventions.

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