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The State : Looking at Proposition 187 Through The Eyes of an Illegal Valedictorian : CAMPUS CORRESPONDENCE

November 06, 1994|RAFAEL IBARRA | Rafael Ibarra is a sophomore majoring in biochemistry at the University of Chicago

I'm fortunate that Proposition 187 was not California law when I attended secondary school. If the anti-immigrant measure had been, I would not have finished high school, would not have graduated as valedictorian and most certainly would not be attending the University of Chicago.

There are thousands of young people in America who, through no fault of their own, are the children of undocumented immigrants. They, like me, have two choices in America. They can follow the difficult but ultimately rewarding path of self-determination and advancement through education, or they can turn their back on academic opportunity and become burdens to taxpayers.

Yet, if Proposition 187 passes, they will have no such choice. The path to education and betterment will be blocked, but the children of the undocumented will not leave the country. They will join an ever-growing subclass of illiterate, uneducated poor people.

What a waste. Society benefits when success in education is encouraged and rewarded, regardless of a student's origin or legal status. Education is the foundation of personal growth. It is necessary to live a productive life. As Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote in Plyer vs. Doe, in which the Supreme Court overturned a Texas law banning undocumented children from the state's public schools:

"It is difficult to understand precisely what the state hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare and crime. It is thus clear that whatever savings might be achieved (are) wholly insubstantial in light of the costs involved in educating these children, the state and the nation."

My own experience helps to illustrate what can happen when the doors to an education remain open. I was illegally brought to the United States by my mother when I was 6. I soon recognized that getting an education was my great opportunity. Through elementary and high school, I sought to make the most of my studies, even though I could not be assured that I would be able to continue through college.

Although I graduated as valedictorian, I knew my chances of gaining admission to a college as an undocumented student were small. Still, I applied. As it turned out, most colleges deferred a decision because I was undocumented. One Ivy League school accepted me on the basis of my academic record, but rescinded its offer when I admitted I was undocumented. Understandably, I was euphoric when the University of Chicago accepted me.

To ensure that I would be allowed to complete my education, I turned myself in to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the spring of 1993. I spent my first year at the university trying to prove how serious I was about getting the best education I could. A hearing to determine my legal status was scheduled last winter but delayed until August. Last summer, a judge, after taking into account my performance at Chicago, suspended my deportation, ruling that I was on the way to making contributions to society that would outweigh anything I had taken to gain an education.

If education is not an option for undocumented immigrants, they will inevitably be less successful in their attempts to become productive, useful and self-reliant members of society. By denying them public schooling, Proposition 187 would undermine the egalitarian principles of American democracy.

No country can ensure its future or preserve its highest ideals at the same time denying an education to members of its population.*

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