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Weekly Diaspora: Hitting immigrant kids where it hurts

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After a long summer of name-calling and absurd attempts to deny birthright citizenship to children of immigrants, immigration hawks are now bullying immigrant children on their own turf: Public schools.

California, New York, Iowa and Colorado are among the states that have cracked down on immigrant students by hiring ICE agents to investigate residency statuses or unlawfully barring students from enrolling. Such blatant discrimination flies in the face of the 14th amendment and Supreme Court precedent, both of which guarantee all children the right to a public education regardless of immigration status.

The latest assault on immigrant students comes not from over-zealous school districts, however, but from state lawmakers adamant about stripping immigrants of the few rights they possess.

Kick ‘em out of school

As Matt Vasilogambros of the Iowa Independent reports, Iowa’s lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Kim Reynolds recently came out in support of denying public education to undocumented children, a sentiment she shares with her running mate, former Gov. Terry Branstad. Branstad’s position is even more extreme, however. He has argued that the Supreme Court decision in Plyer v. Doe -- the 1982 case which guarantees immigrants the right to public education -- should be overturned.

So far, only Colorado third party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo has fully endorsed Branstad’s extreme opinion. Tancredo has even gone so far as to say that, if elected, he would ignore the Supreme Court ruling altogether.

Branstad and Tancredo may be on their own for the moment. But, if this summer’s birthright citizenship fiasco is any indication, anti-immigrant conservatives must be delighted to fall back on the age-old myth that immigrants are here to steal social services.

New York stands up

Last week, the New York Department of Education fired back at anti-immigrant activism in schools by issuing a memo that directs schools not to investigate the immigration status of their students.

According to Braden Goyette of Campus Progress, the memo came in response to a New York Civil Liberties Union report charging that 139 New York school districts were collecting information about prospective students’ immigration statuses -- and barring or discouraging children from enrolling if they failed to provide proof of their citizenship.

Goyette notes that federal law only requires students to fulfill two simple requirements before enrolling: residency in the school district, and intent to remain in the school district. Immigration status is not a factor.

The memo is a victory for immigrant rights advocates, especially as it comes on the heels of reports that two California school districts are adopting even harsher anti-immigrant policies.

Negating Pyler v. Doe

As New America Media’s Jacob Simas and Elena Shore translate from a La Opinión, a daily Spanish-language newspaper based in Los Angeles. Both the Unified School District of Calexico and the Mountain Empire School District near San Diego have hired staff exclusively to investigate the immigration statuses of their students. The school districts are attempting to get around Pyler v. Doe by arguing that their proximity to the border necessitates stricter enforcement of federal residency requirements.

In other words, they’re worried that Mexican children are crossing the border to take advantage of our first-class, world-renowned public school offerings. The simple fact that student residency can be determined without revealing immigration status is obviously beside the point.

Cutting social services in New Jersey

Meanwhile, immigrants in New Jersey may be robbed of their own social services, as the state threatens to removes 12,000 non-citizens from it’s low-income family insurance plan.

As Change.org’s Prerna Lal reports, several legal immigrants have joined a class action lawsuit against New Jersey’s Department of Human Services, alleging that the state is violating “the equal protection guarantees of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions” by denying health care subsidies to legal permanent residents. Lal notes that legal permanent residents possess nearly all of the same rights as U.S. citizens, and pay taxes to both state and federal governments. They should, therefore, be safe from public policy discrimination.

But, while it’s well documented that both legal and undocumented immigrants pay into our social services system through income taxes, that fact is persistently overlooked by the anti-immigrant zealots who want to keep immigrants off Medicaid and out of public schools.

Even former President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors agreed that immigrants have a positive fiscal impact Social Security and Medicaid, contributing $80,000 more in taxes than they receive in public services. Other studies put that figure much higher.

Given their immense contribution to the social services net, guaranteeing immigrants’ access to those public services is more than a matter of justice -- it’s a matter of fiscal responsibility.

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