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GOP May Kill Immigration Bill's Option to Ban Public Schooling

September 18, 1996|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — With the bill to crack down on illegal immigration hanging in the balance, some congressional Republicans inched away from a controversial provision Tuesday aimed at allowing states to restrict public education among illegal immigrant students.

Although the situation remained in flux, the GOP lawmakers floated an alternative proposal calling for a yearlong government study on the impact of illegal immigrants in public schools, congressional aides said. School districts in states that opt to participate in the General Accounting Office study would be forced to determine the legal status of students as part of the review, the aides said.

The Republicans behind the study idea hope that the proposal would allow the illegal-immigration bill to proceed in the waning days of the 104th Congress and postpone debate on the public-schooling provision.

An effort by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) that began as an amendment that would have allowed states to ban illegal immigrants from public schools had brought the overall illegal immigration legislation to a screeching halt. Even after Gallegly recently weakened his proposal so that it would permit illegal immigrant children to continue in school if they pay tuition, the White House and congressional Democrats have remained firm in their opposition.

Some GOP leaders are insisting on pushing the public-school provision in hopes of prompting a threatened White House veto of the entire measure and helping Bob Dole's presidential campaign, especially in California. But others in the party contended that such a scheme would likely backfire and sink an important piece of legislation that enjoys bipartisan support.

"If we get [the public schooling proposal] out, we will pass a very strong, tough, sweeping bill," Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) said Tuesday. He predicted that, otherwise, the bill would die.

With no clear strategy to unify them, Republicans abruptly canceled Tuesday's House-Senate conference committee meeting called to reconcile the differing versions of the legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) remained confident that a deal could be struck. "It's not dead," he said. "We may be rethinking our substance."

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