- - Monday, August 4, 2014

“Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?”

Helen Lovejoy’s words on “The Simpsons” never rang quite so true as they do in our current southern border crisis. However, those who will feel the harshest impact from the arrival of a projected 70,000 unaccompanied minors at our doorstep this year are not the immigrants themselves, who, having been abandoned by their parents, are now in the relative comfort of America’s social safety net. It is our own children who are getting a bum deal.

While both conservative lawmakers and Democratic fundraisers have made much hay of the impending constitutional crisis that President Obama’s unilateral executive action on amnesty would invoke, forgotten has been the strain that the current influx will have on school systems throughout the country come Fall.

Even if, by recent estimates, assimilating these immigrants into the U.S. would amount to 20 children per county, the impact on smaller school systems could be severe. Based on the most current available data, the National Center for Education Statistics says there are approximately 100,000 schools nationwide. If we were to assume that these were evenly distributed among 3,141 total counties, meaning an average of 32 schools per county, it may seem reasonable to some that 62.5 percent of schools might take on one extra student per county at an annual cost of about $13,000 per student.

However, while the percentage of unaccompanied minors under age 12 appearing at the border is rapidly growing, Pew Research estimates that 84 percent of these immigrants are teenagers (about 17 per county out of the original 20), putting the burden disproportionately on middle and high schools.

With only around 25,000 public secondary schools, or eight per county on average, each secondary school would now take two refugees.

Those who have yet to hear cash registers ringing and see dollar signs flashing must remember that the theoretical distribution of immigrants will not, in reality, be equal. Already, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat and staunch amnesty advocate, has been at odds with Mr. Obama over NIMBYism where his own state is concerned. Can anyone imagine how the federal government, based on its present handling of the situation, might fare in overseeing a proportional distribution of immigrants to each county? It is more likely that the White House might use it as a tool, like the IRS, to target political enemies.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the president has a vindictive streak and sends immigrants only to the counties that voted against him in the 2012 election, which by rough count would be around 2,700 counties of the 3,141 total. Perhaps, in a whimsical streak of magnanimity, Obama decides to target only the 2,500 most conservative-leaning counties, raising original estimate to 28 students per county. Now each high school has yet another student to manage.

Or maybe, mirroring his approval rating, Mr. Obama offers immigrant relief to 39 percent of the country (roughly 1,225 counties), leaving the other 61 percent to weather the burden. The number then becomes 37 students per county, or five on average per secondary school, an extra $65,000 in spending per year.

As easy as it is to play with the numbers, though, it is equally easy to allow statistics to soften the blow by removing the human element from the equation. For even the most effective of teachers, a handful of students who cannot speak the language, paired with poverty and uncertain domestic situations, will require most of their attention, thus giving other students the short shrift and negatively impacting data for the entire school division, ironically harming their ability to receive future state and federal funding.

And here’s hoping the immigrants all have teddy bears and DREAM Act aspirations. The evidence pointing to gangs like MS-13 recruiting at detention centers suggest that some so-called refugees may be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, spreading the fire with them as they go. What resources will your child’s learning institution have for dealing with a sudden epidemic of drugs and gang violence?

Proponents of an open-door immigration policy often draw false parallels to the European and Asian immigration of the late 19th century, or earlier to the founding of the U.S. In neither case, though, did the costs of social welfare and public education fall on the shoulders of society as they do now.

Compulsory education policies only started being codified in the early 1900s, and immigrants unable to speak the language were often expected to attend outside language schools. It was 1974 when the U.S. Supreme Court determined in Lau vs. Nichols that public schools must assume this responsibility.

There is no solution to the current immigration problem that will not result in American sacrifices.  Either we cast aside our sense of compassion and natural impulse to help the less fortunate, as immortalized in Emma Lazarus’ line inscribed on the Statue of Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” or, alternatively, we lose our ability to maintain a healthy, functional democracy promoting the virtues of freedom, hard work and fairness that made our nation a desirable one to begin with.

The Obama administration, unfortunately, seems to see no issue with the compromising position it has put the country in by allowing this situation to escalate, preferring to frame the crisis in terms of photo opportunities and cat-and-mouse campaign strategies against the GOP.

As with his healthcare rollout and foreign policy missteps, the president’s hubris is bound to backfire on him when reality sets in, but it is future generations of Americans, not Mr. Obama, who in each case must suffer the resulting tragedy.

Ben Sellers is a teacher in Virginia.

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