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Quezada's Bid for Non-Citizen Vote Debated

March 19, 1992|MARY ANNE PEREZ | SPECIAL TO NUESTRO TIEMPO

Los Angeles school board member Leticia Quezada touched off a controversy with her proposal to extend voting rights to all parents of schoolchildren, including non-citizens, in elections for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The proposal brought strong support from some Latino parents and fierce protests from other groups, including the district's Black Education Commission.

Angry Latino parents stormed out of the fifth hearing on the issue Feb. 18 after the board postponed a vote, yelling in Spanish and English that they would consider keeping their children out of the schools until the board approved the resolution.

Quezada's motion calls on the board to support the principle of allowing parents of district students to vote regardless of citizenship status. It also calls for Supt. Bill Anton to outline how this could take place by the 1993 school board elections.

School board members said they are awaiting a report from the legislative counsel's office, which gives legal opinions for members of the Legislature, on whether the proposal is legal and how expensive such an election would be.

"It is going to happen," Quezada said after the Feb. 18 meeting. "It's just a question of when, and if it does not happen here, it will happen somewhere else."

The student enrollment in the Los Angeles school district has increased dramatically in recent years, with many new students coming from immigrant families who are not citizens. Two of every three students in the district are Latino.

Quezada argued in her motion that non-citizen immigrants have "obligations of citizenship," such as paying taxes without having the right to vote, resulting in "an intolerable situation of taxation without representation."

Giving non-citizen parents the right to vote, Quezada said, would increase their interest and participation in the schools, which can only contribute to strengthening the schools and help stem the student dropout problem.

But opponents complained that they did not have notice that the issue would be introduced. Some questioned Quezada's motives, saying she was trying to broaden her political base and noting that Quezada announced her candidacy for Congress days after the Feb. 18 meeting.

"The (black) community's perception is that she used this to make a statement to expand her political base," said board member Barbara M. Boudreaux. "The perception is it was not dealt with in an upfront manner."

Boudreaux suggested that the school district instead help increase the number of voters among eligible residents, help immigrants become citizens and encourage more parental involvement in the schools.

The Black Education Commission, an advisory group for the district, said in a Jan. 28 letter to Quezada that the proposal "is an insult to our history and our record for leading the fight for rights of all minorities." In a subsequent letter to Quezada, the commission suggested other areas to work on, such as reducing dropout rates and gang violence.

In an interview, Madi Reeves, who co-chairs the Black Education Commission, said she lamented the fact that the commission's opposition to Quezada's proposal made it appear "that we are racist, and I'm very sorry for that."

"I think it's a sad time and it doesn't need to be that way because many (black and Latino) goals are the same," she said. "When we opposed the motion (and called for) additional dialogue, it gave the appearance that we were against another ethnic community, and this is not so."

Quezada defended the timing of her motion, which was proposed in mid-December, before Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles) announced that he will not seek reelection and before any of the redistricting plans from the 1990 census had been laid out.

"My motive is the parents who I have interfaced with over the past five years, who continually say that they feel voiceless because they can't vote for the school board," Quezada said. "I can sympathize with them because I am a naturalized citizen, and you can't have that kind of sympathy unless you've been there."

Latino parents gave impassioned presentations to the school board in favor of the proposal.

"It's the first time that somebody thinks about us," Maria Concepcion Montez, who has children in elementary school, told board members. "All of you are making a living off our children, and it's about time you take us into account."

Sigifredo Lopez, whose youngest son attends Wilson High School, called for parents to discuss a boycott. "This is not a privilege for the community," Lopez said. "This is a human right. Everywhere in the world there is democratization, and this small group does not give that right to the parents."

Voting rights attorney Joaquin Avila, who has advocated expanding voting rights for about four years, told Nuestro Tiempo that he believes a state initiative would be required to implement the change advocated by Quezada.

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