by Joe Guzzardi
February 25, 2011
Russell Pearce, Arizona’s Senate president, introduced new legislation earlier this week that would ban illegal immigrants from state universities and community colleges, make it illegal for them to drive and, most importantly, add new public school reporting requirements that could deter parents of illegal immigrant children from enrolling them in public schools.
At the heart of S.B. 1611 is how the courts will interpret Pearce’s small but significant change in the existing law that gives illegal immigrants children unrestricted access to public education.
Currently, parents need only to provide proof of a child’s age, most often a birth certificate from any country, to allow them school entry.
Pearce’s legislation would require that the birth certificate be from the U.S. In the absence of that document, a U.S. passport or naturalization document would suffice.
Pearce insists that S.B. 1611 does not challenge the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Plyler v. Dow ruling that forbids schools from refusing to enroll students who cannot prove they are legal U.S. residents. According to the five-to-four decision, the court ruled that the equal protection provision of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment requires public schools to admit illegal alien children based on the presumption that denial of public education to children whose parents brought them illegally to the United States is not a rational response to states’ concerns about illegal immigration.
But Pearce claims that nothing in the Supreme Court ruling prohibits schools from asking about immigration status as long as no student is turned away for failing to provide the documentation.
Although Pearce was the target of numerous A.C. L.U. and religious organizations’ protests when he outlined his new bill, he said: “If you are ever going to stop this invasion, and it is an invasion, you have to quit rewarding people for breaking those laws.” Pearce is one of several influential political figures including Governor Jan Brewer who wants to eliminate incentives for illegal immigrants.
While Pearce’s many opponents call him a racist, his colleagues say his single-minded dedication to ending illegal immigration may have to do with his personal background. As a police officer, Pearce was shot in the chest and finger by a gang member. Then, three years ago, Pearce’s son, also a sheriff’s deputy, was severely wounded by an illegal alien criminal.
S.B. 1611, although it cleared committee, is not assured of passage. Arizona’s immigrant community has many vocal and powerful voices. Still S.B. 1070, a 2010 bill that under certain circumstances requires illegal immigrants to prove their status, is widely popular not only in Arizona but also nationwide.
Furthermore, some state lawmakers report that their constituents are furious over President Barack Obama administration’s lawsuit challenging S.B. 1070 and want the state to continue fighting illegal immigration.
While Plyler v. Doe may eventually be the crux of S.B. 1611’s ultimate fate, it’s interesting to note that the Supreme Court ruling is thirty- years-old and was handed down during an era when illegal immigration was a much less pressing issue.
Most state budgets like Arizona’s are deeply in the red. Limited community tax dollars are available to fund illegal immigrant education. Sources estimate that Arizona spends about $200 million to fund alien schooling despite a fiscal 2011 $3.1 billion deficit.
Unquestionably, the cost of funding services to illegal immigrants contributes to the deficit. Today, Arizona’s Hispanic population makes up nearly 30 percent of all residents. In the last two decades, the Hispanic demographic—mostly illegal immigrants and their children—grew by more than 90 percent.
As for Pearce, who may aspire to the U.S. House of Representatives, he remains fond of saying that he’s only helping "take back America one state at a time."
Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues – since 1990. He is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns have frequently been syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. He can be reached at [email protected]