Vowing not to be caught off guard in a quickly moving legislative battle, Los Angeles-area school officials and lawmakers Tuesday denounced congressional proposals that they described as the latest examples of immigrant-bashing--this time aimed at schoolchildren.
"This could have a catastrophic impact on the education of children in the state of California," said Leticia Quezada, president of the Los Angeles Board of Education.
At issue are two measures sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), who spearheaded the successful congressional effort to deny long-term earthquake assistance to illegal immigrants.
One Rohrabacher proposal would cut off federal funding for illegal immigrant students from kindergarten through high school.
The other measure would require schools to report how many illegal immigrant students they have, along with the number of lawful resident students who have one or more undocumented parents. The statistics are to be used to calculate the much-disputed costs of illegal immigration, Rohrabacher said.
Congress is expected to take up that measure today. The funding proposal is likely to come up later. Both are tacked on as proposed amendments to a multibillion-dollar education bill.
Immigrant advocates condemned the measures as Draconian attacks on the fundamental right to education. Federal law requires that states provide public education to children, regardless of immigration status.
Denying education funds to illegal immigrants and their offspring would create a vast new underclass of disadvantaged youth lacking opportunities for advancement, critics of the amendments argue.
"This has to be taken very seriously because, unfortunately, there are a number of members of Congress who are afraid to stand up for what's right," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based coalition that lobbies on behalf of immigrants.
In Los Angeles, school officials and Latino lawmakers opposed to the amendments gathered outside Chinatown's Castelar School, which has many immigrant students.
"Denying children an education will not control our borders," said Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon.