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What Exactly Is the Goal of This Game?

June 26, 1996|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Let's play a little game.

For the sake of argument, let's say that of the 5.5 million children enrolled in California grade schools, about 350,000 are illegal immigrants. (No way of knowing for sure, but this is the accepted unofficial figure.)

Let's say, too, that with a per capita expenditure of $5,186 per child per year, the presence of these pupils on our campuses requires about $1.8 billion in public funds.

Now let's imagine with a presidential signature on an immigration reform bill (unlikely, but this is an election year), the state is given permission to enact the provision of Proposition 187 that would "disappear" these children, more or less, from our schools. (Not from our streets, necessarily, but we'll let our over-funded, overstaffed police forces and social service agencies deal with those problems.)

And let's make believe, too, that it won't cost any money to figure out who is legal and who is not, that some easy mechanism will have been devised to separate the good, citizen children from the bad, leech children, who could then be tossed out on their soft little ears. After which, of course, they will pick themselves up and return to Mexico (or wherever) with their parents, who, everybody knows, came to California for the superior schooling, not work.

(I hate to be tiresome in the middle of a fantasy, but if we are trying to solve the illegal immigration problem, how do we get rid of illegal immigrant parents whose children were born here and are, thus, the parents of legal citizens? What about families with some children who were born here and some who were not? Nuances . . . don't you just hate them?)

Anyway, once the tykes are sent packing, let's imagine what would happen to that "extra" $1.8 billion.

Would it be spent on more and better equipment?

Smaller class sizes?

A restoration of art and music programs and maybe if we're really lucky, free drivers' ed again, just like we had in the good old days?

One presidential candidate imagined last week that the state might use the money to hire 51,000 new teachers. Or build more than 2,300 new classrooms. Or buy 3.6 million computers. A Sacramento Bee cartoonist explained Bob Dole's position on the matter this way: "Good plan for you. Good plan for America. Turn in an illegal alien student, get a computer for your school."

(What a relief. If I have to buy one more roll of wrapping paper from a schoolchild, I am going to throw up an entire case of World's Finest Chocolate.)

Anyway, it's a bit unclear why we'd be needing all those new classrooms and teachers. If we're ridding ourselves of so many children, what's the point?

It is also unclear why, in this time of expensive but seriously underfunded incarceration solutions for repeat offenders, the politicians of this state would not leap at the opportunity to recapture what is essentially "free money" from schools and apply it to other, equally pressing social problems.

Unless, of course, the politicians have no real intention of ridding the streets, schools and workplaces of illegal immigrants and only appear to care about the "problem."

Well-meaning citizens like to blame illegal immigrants for falling wages and fewer jobs. But the immigrants do not hire themselves or sign their own paychecks. California businesses profit handsomely from the labor provided by this cheap, unskilled pool.

And so, it appears, do businesses elsewhere. Last week, in a story that surprisingly did not get much play here, the Wall Street Journal reported that Farm Belt states are experiencing an influx of immigrants. They are drawn to the Midwest, not for low student-teacher ratios or good school test scores, but for . . . surprise! . . . jobs. When the INS examined employment records at one chicken processing plant in Iowa, the Journal reported, it found that 39% of the workers were undocumented.

Was it really an accident of engineering that the corrugated metal fence that runs along 14 miles of California / Mexico border was installed so that the ripples in some places are horizontal, climbable as ladders?

In Sacramento last week, a San Diego-area legislator joked about the fence. She'd heard that in some places it tilts toward California, making the climb so easy that even a child could do it.

A little game is being played all right, and there's nothing remotely imaginary about it.

* Robin Abcarian's column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

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