Thursday, July 5, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — The National Education Association yesterday pledged to support a federal immigration policy that will let illegal aliens remain in the United States and that will reject “criminalization” of them.

The language was adopted during the NEA’s annual convention as part of the group’s legislative agenda for the remainder of the current congressional session. It came “after a lot of internal discussion with our Hispanic Caucus” and “a lot of input,” said Randall Moody, one of the NEA’s top lobbyists in Washington.

The NEA is celebrating its 150th anniversary here this week, with more than 9,000 teacher-delegates from around the country who are discussing a range of issues and approving the group”s agenda and budget. The 3.2 million-member teachers union already had an immigration legislative policy in place for the current 110th Congress, but decided to amend it this year.

Among the changes, new language was added stating the NEA supports immigration reform that “rejects the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and those who work with them, including the educators,” which Mr. Moody said means the group opposes jailing all such persons as felons.

The changes also strengthen the NEA”s support for immigration reform that includes a path to permanent residency, citizenship or asylum for those illegal aliens who have lived and worked in the United States and had background checks. New language also voices support for legislation that smoothes the citizenship process for legal immigrants.

“We want to be a part of making sure that immigration is done thoughtfully and preserves the public interest, but also acknowledges the reality of what is happening,” said Len Paolillo, a California delegate who leads the NEA Standing Committee on Legislation.

NEA President Reg Weaver said any recommended NEA stances on issues come from NEA members themselves and aren”t “Democrat” or “Republican” stances.

He added however, that he thinks the term “illegal alien” is “negative” and shouldn”t be used.

NEA members have raised a range of issues this week, including calls for universal health care coverage and more funding for special education needs. These items though reflect the delegates’ opinions, rather than the group’s formal legislative agenda. The other issue stances include approved language pledging to actively defend the civil rights of illegal aliens and their children, as well as to fight the Supreme Court”s recent decision overturning two school district plans that used race to assign students to certain schools.

Among the other such items left to consider is a call for the NEA to help states bar local law-enforcement and city workers from helping the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with raids and deportations of illegal aliens.

Meanwhile, a group of conservative NEA members yesterday proposed NEA language that would have stated the group has no official stance on abortion.

“Our goal here is to encourage them to stick to educational issues,” said Sissy Jochman, who leads the NEA”s Conservative Educators Caucus. By stating it clearly in writing, she said, “we will be truly neutral.”

The NEA allowed a full debate on the issue and the assembly voted to refer the proposal back to an NEA committee, with the consent of the woman who offered it, Judy Bruns of Ohio.

Mrs. Bruns said it”s “progress” that the committee will discuss it and she called the floor debate “one of the longest discussions” the assembly has had on abortion. Mr. Weaver conducted it “in a very fair manner,” she said. Conservative NEA members have long complained that the NEA supports pro-choice activities, including past rallies in Washington.

NEA policy states that it “supports family planning, including the right to reproductive freedom.”

The association’s general counsel Bob Chanin defended the group’s stance and drew cheers when he said “it is the decision of the woman to decide what she wants to do,” although he said such a stance does not mean the group has “a position that supports abortion.”

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