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PERSPECTIVES ON PROPOSITION 187 : Teachers as INS Cops: an Ugly Lie : Children ineligible for public school won't be 'thrown into the streets.' And we already have enrollment checks.

November 04, 1994|JANICE BIERLEY | Janice Bierley taught science in Los Angeles schools from 1986 to 1993. She is a volunteer working on behalf of Proposition 187.

I taught in the Los Angeles school district for seven years, and I want voters to know that the image of children being thrown out onto the streets under Proposition 187 is one of the uglier scare tactics being promulgated by opponents of the initiative.

It is a lie to say that the measure will make teachers "cops" or informants or agents of the INS. Teachers nurture and instruct all children assigned to them, without reservation; Proposition 187 doesn't change this in any way. Teachers do not determine eligibility for enrollment, so they would not be expected or required to identify children who are ineligible because they are in this country illegally.

The admissions office of each school handles enrollment decisions. Children brought to the wrong school have routinely been refused admission and unceremoniously redirected elsewhere for years. Did anyone not know this? Parents already have to prove that their children have the right to attend a given school by showing that they reside within certain geographical boundaries. What would be new under Proposition 187 is also having to show that they have the legal right to be in the country in order to enjoy "free" schooling (paid by the beleaguered taxpayer). Since 187 applies only to publicly supported schools, children who are ineligible could enroll in private or parochial schools.

What about ineligible children already enrolled? The measure would not take effect until January, and schools would have until the following January to complete the eligibility verification of students already enrolled.

Additionally, parents would have 90 days after notification to arrange transfer to a school in their country of origin; the children would remain in school during this time. That's hardly "throwing children into the street."

That children would suddenly become homeless under this law is the vilest innuendo from opponents of Proposition 187. If children had a home before Proposition 187 and enjoyed parental control, they still would afterward.

As to the "police-state mentality" slogan, only someone who is trying to apply for certain public benefits or who has been arrested for probable cause on a non-immigration offense can "come under suspicion," and only if that person is not able to produce the necessary documents or presents fraudulent documents. Analogously, anyone trying to shop in a membership retail store or enter an HMO hospital is asked to show the appropriate membership card. In the case of the hospital, of course, people seeking treatment for an emergency will be seen even if they are not normally eligible; the same would be true for illegal aliens under Proposition 187.

Voters should note that opponents of 187 always cite the value of immigrants without noting the difference between legal and illegal immigration. The strength of this country derives from legal immigrants who came and still come expecting to respect a common body of law and to avoid being a burden on their adopted society. I find naturalized citizens and other legal immigrants far more indignant than natural citizens when they see illegal aliens profiting from breaking the very laws they themselves had honorably obeyed.

The massive onslaught on public services and taking of entry-level jobs has hurt our legal immigrants, minority citizens and our young people the most. It is a strange sort of compassion, indeed, that chooses to shower largess on lawbreakers at the very expense of the perpetrators' victims. The natural result is not gratitude, but contempt toward this country and its people and institutions. Since behavior rewarded is behavior encouraged, all benefits to illegal entrants must come to an end, and soon.

If you think a reinforced Border Patrol is all we need, I must remind you that under NAFTA, trucks now can roll over our borders uninspected, unopened and with no change in driver. Guess what is the most profitable cargo with the least criminal penalty for breaking applicable laws? It's foreign nationals entering the United States illegally. Without some provision like Proposition 187, what defense do we have that is any more humane?

Finally, critics seem to forget that people tend to respond to changing conditions. In the early 1950s, when the government announced a program to send back to the country of origin all foreign nationals who were here illegally, about one-quarter of a million people left the United States voluntarily, simply in anticipation of being caught. A similar result can be expected with passage of this initiative, much to the consternation of those who wish to derive political and economic power from a massive alien presence here.

All things considered, Proposition 187 is about as humane a remedy to an intolerable situation as a bankrupt state can manage. The betrayal of the citizens by their elected officials at every level has left us no other peaceful choice.

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