Confusion over who should check citizenship of school kids
Republic Tucson Bureau
May. 25, 2005 

Susan Carroll

TUCSON - State schools chief Tom Horne on Wednesday confirmed that children living in Mexico are crossing the border to attend school in the United States, but officials cannot agree whether the state, county or school district should check residency claims.

More than a year after calling for an investigation, Horne said state school officials now have a videotape that shows children crossing from Sonoyta, Sonora, through the port of entry and boarding buses to attend school in the United States. The state also found that trailer-park spaces in the U.S. border town of Lukeville listed as proof of residency for many children are empty.

Overall, Horne said, the investigation found "overwhelming evidence" of fraud.

According to Ajo School District records, 85 students board the bus each day in Lukeville. But the border town has little more than a strip mall, gas station, motel, RV park and general store and a population of 65.

U.S. immigration officials said most of the students who cross the border each day for school were born in the United States and have citizenship even though their parents live in Mexico. Still, state law requires that they live in the United States to attend U.S. schools.

Horne said the responsibility for verifying the students' residency claims falls to the Pima County superintendent's office, which provides transportation to the Ajo School District because Lukeville is an unincorporated area with no school. He said he wants the county to visit addresses provided by students to verify they live there.

But Linda L. Arzoumanian, superintendent for Pima County, said the county already has proof of legal residency for the students on file. Physically verifying their addresses raises legal questions, she said, citing a 1980 state attorney general's opinion that prohibits applying residency requirements in a way that results in "discrimination based on race or national origin."

"I would have to do it for all 135,000 students in Pima County," she said. "You can't apply one criteria for one group of students."

Horne also said that on Tuesday he asked Ajo superintendent Robert Dooley to verify the students' residency claims. Dooley told him he needed to consult with an attorney, Horne said.

Dooley did not return phone calls on Wednesday.

Horne said possible action includes withholding state funding for students whose residency is in question, which means the Ajo district could lose more than $425,000.

"I have to make sure for the upcoming school year that they do not include students who are not residents of Arizona," Horne said.

Silverio Garcia, an Avondale-based Latino activist, said he plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights on behalf of the students who board the bus in Lukeville. He said children who are U.S. citizens and their parents are being "profiled" because they live in border towns and called for the federal government to intervene.