Citizenship checks rightly illegal at schools
Arizona Daily Star
April 29, 2009

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Our view: Refusing to educate children without documentation solves no problem

Tucson, Arizona | Published:http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/290606

Arizona public schools must not become an arm of law enforcement, which would happen if an idea floated by Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik becomes reality.

Dupnik told a U.S. Senate panel on border security that schools should be able to ask a child to prove his or her legal immigration status before enrolling in a public school.

Turning school personnel into immigration police would do little to solve the real problem of a broken U.S. immigration policy.

Dupnik said in an interview Tuesday morning that, regardless of his personal opinions on the matter, the Sheriff's Department is not changing policy or planning to take any action.

"We're not going to go to schools, not going to do immigration sweeps I'm not trying to emulate (Maricopa County Sheriff) Joe Arpaio," he said. "I was merely trying to point out why we have extraordinary problems that we have to deal with and I wanted Washington to have a reality lesson."

Dupnik said schools should require that students prove they are U.S. citizens or in the country legally before they're allowed to enroll. If they can't, then school officials would report the family to federal immigration authorities.

"It's a complex, complicated issue and we have to look at all of the aspects related to border security," he said. "I think we need to do everything we can to discourage people from coming here. When a substantial number of students are here illegally, I think that directly relates to border security and many of the social problems, including crime, that we have to look at."

Schools are prohibited by a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision from asking students to prove legal residence. Even if they weren't bound by law, schools have no business trying to determine anyone's citizenship or immigration status. Doing so would violate the philosophy and usefulness of a free public education, and the ripple effects would be felt throughout our communities.

Turning school officials into immigration agents would not do much to stem illegal immigration. It is true that students who are in the country illegally do attend Arizona schools and, yes, they do cost taxpayers money.

That must be weighed against the greater cost of creating an underclass of children who live in our community but are barred from attending school. Crime, vandalism and poverty are also linked strongly with a lack of education.

We also do not believe that throngs of undocumented immigrants would return to their home country because their children can't go to school.

Dupnik's complete turnaround on this issue is startling. In 1996 he said, "This country needs to do more to protect its borders. But they need to do it in a humanitarian, logical way. Not allowing children to go to school isn't the logical answer."

He was right.

Dupnik now says he thinks it's time for a test case to challenge the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

However, trying to overturn the high court's decision is a gamble and it's a long-term gamble. No decision could possibly be reached in time to fix Arizona's budget problems.

Scaring parents from sending their children to school is not sound public policy.

We share Dupnik's frustration that the federal government has failed to fix the country's immigration policy. But punishing children for their parents' decisions, and the shortcomings of the U.S. government, is not the American way.