Columns » John Brummett

A law to keep innocent kids down

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An Arkansas school superintendent walked over and said he'd become so troubled that he'd written me a letter. But he hadn't mailed it and probably wouldn't. He had enough trouble as it was.

Naturally I implored him to spill it. He consented enough to say he was distressed that we weren't telling the truth when we proclaimed our dedication to children and that public education was the path to opportunity.

Oh, was that all?

There's no point, for now, in giving the fellow's name or location. He indeed has enough trouble as it is. Any school superintendent does. No school superintendent would be well-served by grabbing the political hand grenade that is the issue of illegal immigration. But we might find ourselves needing to hear publicly from him and others similarly situated — by name and on the authority of their offices — if a certain proposed initiated act gets on the general election ballot in November.

It turns out that this superintendent is troubled by the absence of college scholarships, financial aid and in-state tuition rates for innocent and high-achieving children of illegal immigrants who come out of our public schools. In most cases, a Social Security number is required to enter college, much less get a subsidy. But this prohibition, among other harsh exclusions, would be made binding in state law by the initiated act that a little-known group calling itself Secure Arkansas is hoping to get qualified for the ballot through petition signatures.

Federal law requires public schools to provide a free education to children from undocumented families. But that privilege ends after the 12th grade, as if modern education ended there. If we are generous and fair-minded enough to educate these youths at all, then why insist on educating them incompletely?

This superintendent told of smart kids and stellar school citizens who, through no fault of their own, happen to come from families that migrated to the state illegally. There is one who recently graduated from high school and would be in college but for the lack of a scholarship for which he is qualified, but which is contingent on proof of citizenship. He was last seen roofing houses. There is another in an elementary grade who is probably the highest-achieving child in her class. This has nothing to do with these young people. They are victims of their families' illegal flight. They are victims of an American mean-spiritedness toward Hispanic immigrants that seems to grow stronger every day.

Our country's elite colleges and universities educate much of the world, yet they don't educate all the deserving kids coming from our own public schools. In a way it would be fairer to these kids if we rounded up all the illegal immigrants and sent them and their children back — if we could, which we can't — than to tell them that they, because of their parents' actions, can have no post-secondary education.

This initiated act may never get on the ballot. If it does, though, its chances, regrettably, would be good. But here's a prediction: If the measure gets on the ballot and runs into trouble with voters, it will not be for the provisions — mean-spirited enough — to deny benefits and services to adult illegal immigrants and require service-providers to seek proof of citizenship and report to authorities on those who can't produce that proof.

Trouble will be the result of this blatant unfairness toward the illegal immigrants' innocent kids who do well in school but are not allowed to further their education.

Surely our meanness has not grown so strong that significant numbers of us won't by bothered by that.

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