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Plan to Count Immigrants in Schools Fails : Education: O.C. activists applaud outcome. Local school official says proposal portended a financial burden.

March 04, 1994|MICHAEL ROSS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Capping a highly emotional debate in which the specter of Nazi Germany was raised by angry Democrats, the House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to defeat a proposal to require public schools to document the number of illegal immigrants in their classrooms.

A narrow majority of Republicans joined with Democrats to kill the legislation sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) by a decisive 329-78 vote.

Offered as an amendment to a $12.4-billion education projects bill, Rohrabacher's proposal would have required schools receiving federal funds to provide the Department of Education with enrollment figures for both their undocumented immigrant students and for lawfully resident pupils whose parents are here illegally.

Arguing that the nation can no longer afford "to spend billions of dollars providing free education to people who are here illegally," Rohrabacher said his amendment would have allowed state and federal authorities to calculate the costs that illegal immigration imposes on the educational system in the United States.

In California and elsewhere, "the flood of illegal aliens is breaking the bank . . . and we have to get control of it," Rohrabacher argued. "It is essential for Congress to know how much it is costing to educate illegal aliens."

But while most lawmakers acknowledged that illegal immigration is a serious problem, they also agreed with Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) that it made no sense "to turn every school official in this country into an immigration officer," burdening educators with bureaucratic responsibilities "that are no part of their jobs."

Defeat of the proposal was met with relief and elation among local educators and activists.

"This would have created a subclass of illiterate adults that America would have to pay for in the long run," said John Palacio, an official with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "It is in America's interest that immigrant children who reside in this country be afforded the educational opportunities so they can become productive members of society.

"I think elected officials saw it for what it was--political posturing and nothing other than that," he added.

Art Montez, state director of urban affairs for League of United Latin American Citizens, said the proposal violated both the Constitution and moral codes.

"I'm finally glad that in the hollow chambers of Congress, there's still the light of hope and intelligence," he said.

Orange County Board of Education Vice President Elizabeth Parker said at the very least, the proposal would have proved a devastating financial blow to schools.

"This would have been an additional financial burden without any money attached," she said.

Pounding the podium with his fist, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), denounced the amendment as "a contemporary 'Schindler's List.' " It was "insane" even to suggest the amendment given "what we learned about Nazi Germany in the period before World War II," Ford added.

"This amendment," thundered Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), "was conceived in darkness and born of intolerance and division."

Rohrabacher said afterward that he was upset by tone of the rhetoric used against him.

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