As Democrats prepare to take a bite at immigration-related legislation during the lame-duck session, the argument nationally over immigration centers, at the moment, on college classrooms.
Americans, by and large, want it both ways — cheap goods and services while stemming illegal immigration. In the background is with a swinging pendulum of attention on cracking down on employers (including would-be politicians) who hire illegal immigrants.
But what should states and the country as a whole do about educating the children of illegal immigrants, or illegal immigrants themselves?
Since a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, states cannot deny children who are unauthorized immigrants access to public education, including high school. Ten or so states have laws that allow eligible illegal immigrants to receive in-state college tuition.
After years of legal wrangling, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that illegal immigrants can receive in-state tuition. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said a day after the California court ruling that he supported pushing for in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students at the Bay State’s public colleges. Georgia state regents, however, recently banned illegal immigrants from attending the state’s top universities. Lawsuits are also pending in Nebraska and Texas that seek to overturn laws that allow for in-state tuition.
At the federal level, the only piece of immigration reform that has received support at one time or another from both Republicans and Democrats is a bill that has floated around Congress for about a decade – the DREAM Act. This proposed law would allow undocumented men and women who meet certain requirements to be eligible for federal loans and put them on a path to citizenship.
Latinos have grown angry over Democrats’ inaction on immigration legislation, which could spell trouble for the Obama White House in 2012.
In the interim, students have relied on media attention and the rare private bill to avoid deportation. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein intervened on behalf of a San Francisco college student who faced deportation. Feinstein introduced a private bill that led to his release, but he could still be deported.
But even with the California court’s decision and the apparent end (suspension?) of one legal controversial in the state, California voters could see another one. A signature drive was authorized to begin for a ballot initiative modeled after Arizona’s controversial immigration.
Arizona’s law, known as SB 1070, stirred a backlash across the country, with protests and the threat of boycotts that would cripple state tourism. While a recent report tallied the state’s lost revenue at $141 million, The Associated Press’ takeway was that the effect was not as bad as feared.
Arizona’s law has spurred copycats around the country, but it’s also brought derision. In an apparent effort to add a little celebrity glamour to his anti-illegal immigration fight, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio sprinkled some star dust on his latest posse. Hollywood action heroes of yesteryear Steven Seagal and Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno, both of whom are real-life deputies elsewhere, were sworn in to aid Arpaio’s crusade.