A Voice in the Wilderness In Defense of "Mere Conservatism"


The Plumb Line: Immigration (Part 3)

By: Caitlin Doemner, Guest Contributor


(For Part 2, click here)

Public Education: Right or Privilege?

[Update:  As of December 12, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Arizona’s appeal regarding its immigration law]

While doing my research on the new Alabama law, I discovered that as a result of a case called “Plyler v. Doe” in 1982, every child in the United States is entitled to public education from Kindergarten through 12th grade, regardless of legal status.

It seems that in 1981, Texas said the state would not provide funding for the education of children who were not “legally admitted” into the United States, thereby authorizing local schools to deny enrollment to such children.

Based on the Supreme Court’s statements, it seems that Texas’ two main arguments were as follows:

(1)  Education is not a fundamental right, and therefore the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not apply.

Court’s response:  Although education is not a fundamental right, it is not like the deprivation of “some other governmental benefit”; education serves “a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage.”  These children should not have a lifetime of hardship imposed upon them because they are “not accountable for their disabling status. These children can neither affect their parents' conduct nor their own undocumented status.”

(2) Educating illegal immigrants does not serve the best interest of the State or its citizens, and therefore the State should not be responsible for funding.

Court’s response:  Denying education to “undocumented children constitutes an ineffectual attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration.”  Evidence does not support the argument that excluding undocumented children improves the quality of education in the state, nor should these children be singled out because they are less likely to “remain within the State's boundaries and to put their education to productive social or political use within the State.”

Times must have changed, because twenty years later, Texas was the first state to allow undocumented residents to qualify for in-state tuition prices (saving them over $11,000 per semester in 2011).  It was his signature on this 2001 bill that seriously hurt Governor Rick Perry’s chances at the Republican nomination this year (remember his “heartless” comment in the September 22 debate?).

Interestingly, federal law (Title 8, Chapter 14, Sec. 1623) states:

"an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State... for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit."

Thus, Texas’ law, as well as California’s DREAM Act, and other such measures now enacted in 13 states, seems to violate federal immigration policy. The California Supreme Court upheld the legitimacy of its DREAM Act, stating that since non-residents can meet the law’s requirements, the tuition discount is not based on residency and therefore does not conflict with the federal prohibition.  In June 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the verdict, thereby upholding the California Court’s ruling and leaving the DREAM Act intact.

Federal DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Acts have been repeatedly presented to and voted down by Congress. The legislation was reintroduced in May 2011 and would enact two major changes to the law:

1.The DREAM Act would permit certain immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status and to eventually obtain permanent legal status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military; and

2.  The DREAM Act would eliminate a federal provision that penalizes states that provide in-state tuition without regard to immigration status.

Arguments against a Federal DREAM Act

The DREAM Act is not popular. Last September, a Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll indicated that the majority of Americans do NOT support providing public benefits to illegal immigrants. Only 18% supported the giving federal or state grants for college, which the DREAM Act would enable aliens to apply for and receive.  Adding illegal immigrants to the pool of applicants for financial aid would reduce the help available to low-income U.S. citizens. It also penalizes foreign students applying to U.S. colleges for abiding by the law.supreme-court-1

The Federal DREAM Act rewards illegal immigrants, first by providing a way to become U.S. citizens if they just stick around long enough, and second, by allowing them to receive in-state tuition rates, which were intended to provide a benefit to state taxpayers whose tax dollars support state colleges.  Although the amnesty is retroactive (only applying to past, not future, immigrants), it sets a precedent that incentivizes future immigrants to move here illegally.  The law absolves immigrant parents of their responsibility to do right by their children and violates our commitment to the rule of law.

Even if you are okay with the basic idea of the law, there are plenty of flaws in the bill as presented (in 2010): (1) it is not exclusively for children since applicants must be less than 30 years old, (2) applicants are safe from being removed or deported regardless of inaccurate information or criminal status, (3) applicants are allowed one felony or three misdemeanors, (4) completing a degree is not a qualification for amnesty, and (5) DREAM Act aliens will receive all the rights that legal immigrants receive, including the right to sponsor family members for immigration.

Arguments for a Federal DREAM Act

Regarding these undocumented students, there are three basic options: deport them, ignore them, or pass the DREAM Act.  Deporting them would cost billions of dollars and return them to a homeland they don’t remember.  Ignoring them accepts the system’s failure and consigns them to the unproductive margins of society.  Passing the DREAM Act incentivizes these kids to work hard and earn the privilege of citizenship.

As stated by the Supreme Court, it is ethically irresponsible to punish children for their parents’ actions.  Granting children primary and secondary education but denying them legal and financial access to college condemns them to second-rate careers, regardless of their academic potential.  “The 1997 report ‘New Americans’ by the National Research Council found that immigrants -- both legal and undocumented -- with a college education save the government money, while those with just a high school diploma consume more in services than they contribute in taxes.”

According to the White House blog, the DREAM Act will (1) assist the military in its recruitment efforts, (2) bolster our competitiveness in the global economy by creating more college graduates, (3) increase government revenues by billions of dollars, and (4) allow immigration officials to dedicate their resources towards detaining and deporting criminals who pose a threat to our country.

When discussing the matter of providing public benefits to illegal immigrants, particularly education, there are many arguments for and against.

Which ones sway you?


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