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PUNISHING THE INNOCENT

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Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., would like to toss hundreds of thousands of little children onto the streets - when they should be in school.

Gallegly, joined by 30 House Republicans and one Democrat, introduced an amendment to the House immigration bill (HR2202) that would authorize states to deny public education to the children of illegal immigrants.The House would punish the children for their parents' illegal crossing.

The Senate version of the immigration bill (SB269) does not contain this sordid provision.

The House-Senate Conference Committee meets in early June to wrangle over their different versions of the immigration bill. The "children to the streets" provision will be part of that debate.

A portion of the Gallegly amendment reads:

"Congress declares it to be the policy of the United States that . . . aliens who are not lawfully present in the United States not be entitled to public education benefits in the same manner as United States citizens and lawful resident aliens."

Does that represent your idea of America?

Congress, in effect, declares that children, who are not here of their own accord, can have the doors of the public schools slammed in their faces. And nowhere to go.

Does it make you proud - a third-grader barred from school because her parents are illegals? A first-grader left alone in a small apartment or wandering the streets, a target for all kinds of scum.

The House bill allows states to make their own determination about whether the public schools will be open to the children of illegal immigrants.

This will save the states money - according to the bill's irrational rationale.

Will leaving children to the streets really save money? Won't states have to pay when these children are hospitalized because they have become victims of the street? Or will some big-hearted politician then introduce legislation to shut them out of hospitals, too?

Who will check the credentials of the schoolchildren? The Gal-legly amendment doesn't provide for Immigration and Naturalization Service officials to enter schools. The bill doesn't provide funds for schools to hire people to do it.

The public schools have traditionally educated all children who came through their doors. The Gallegly provision would turn teachers and school administrators into substitute INS officers - suddenly acting like members of some federal police force.

While closing the school doors to some children, the provision would open them to discrimination.

If a child looks "foreign" or has a Hispanic sounding name, he or she will be checked. And checked again. Every time a child switches schools.

The population of children of illegals is estimated at approximately a quarter of a million. There are more than 49 million children in our public schools. Illegal children are a very tiny percentage of the total.

But documentation would mean documenting every child. From what sources will that money come? Where is the saving?

And Katrina Kelley, director of the Urban School District Advocacy of the National School Boards Association, worries that it would lead to distrust and damage important ties between communities and schools.

Obviously, schools acting as an arm of the INS is poor public policy.

Worse, the Gallegly provision blames the children of illegals for their plight - and punishes them.

Nothing like creating a permanent underclass of uneducated youths who only know the streets, who graduate from being victims to being criminals. How will that save states money?

The International Union of Police Associations, the largest union of active duty police officers - street cops - wrote a letter to the Senate in which they made the point:

"How can anyone advocate throwing thousands of children onto the streets without supervision where they will become both victims and criminals? Local law enforcement officers, our members, will be overwhelmed at a time we can ill afford the extra pressure."

It was signed by Arthur J. Reddy, a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., who has helped herd this immigration legislation through the Senate, won't be chairing the conference committee. Although he has been against the schools provision in the past, he didn't sound confident that he could keep it off the final bill.

"The real issue," Simpson said in a telephone interview May 24, "is that the school systems in those states (like California) that are most affected are utilized by children of people who are here who broke our laws. And those school districts are saying, `Why should we use our taxpayers' money?' "

The school districts would like to have the federal government pay for these children. But that won't happen, he added.

"So, that will be the argument," Simpson asserted. "It won't be about children. And that's where it is with me - I don't understand why anyone would want to keep a sixth-grader from having an education or thrown on the street."

The immigration bill is tough on illegals and those who fake documents, the senator said.

"So there is another choice - to deport the person who is here who has broken our laws, and his or her children," said Simpson.

"I'm just one conferee. I could stand firm to my jaw teeth and get nowhere," he added, when asked if he would try to keep the Gallegly amendment off the immigration bill.

Immigration is a federal problem. Therefore, it should be up to Congress to solve it, not schools.

Arnold Fege, director of Governmental Relations for the National PTA, puts it this way:

"The issue is one of enforcing INS rules at the border. It's not the function of the schools to be deporting kids or denying them a public education. The PTA believes in the right of all children to have access to public education services."

This Gallegly amendment smacks of presidential politics, not immigration policy.

First, Congress can't tell states what to do or not to do about their own school policies. Public schools are the states' domain. So why the amendment?

Second, in Plyler v. Doe (1982) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas could not deny the children of illegals access to the public schools. It should still be good law. Therefore, Gallegly's addition to the immigration bill leads to a violation of the Constitution. Why is it there?

Is it there to embarrass President Clinton if he vetoes an immigration bill that contains this unconstitutional, anti-child provision? Is the plan to leverage California and Texas votes away from Clinton in the general election? Seems more than plausible. The stated reasons for the amendment don't hold up.

It would be a sick strategy to use children as political pawns.

It's politics at its worst: victimizing children.