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Trustees Approve Billing for Illegal Immigrants' Kids

August 20, 1999|MARIA ELENA FERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A controversial proposal to seek payment from other countries or the federal government for the cost of educating illegal immigrants' children was approved 4 to 1 Thursday by the Anaheim Union High School District.

Nearly 200 people--community activists, parents, students--packed the meeting room and spilled out into the hallway during a highly charged session in which the audience booed board President Harald G. Martin. He responded by threatening to end the meeting and have people arrested.

The audience cheered and chanted, "Si, se puede!"--Spanish for "Yes, we can!"--after one speaker called for a boycott of the school system. "If we have to turn our garages into classrooms so our children can learn, we will," Raul Rosa said. He urged residents to begin recall proceedings against school board members.

The lone dissenting trustee, L.E. "Slim" Terrell, showed his disgust by ripping up a copy of the resolution, saying, "There's no reason for it, no need . . . to come up with something this divisive."

Board Chairman Martin sparked the controversy in May when he proposed requiring Mexico to pay for the education of undocumented immigrants' children. Trustees debated the plan, later amended it to include all foreign countries and eventually passed it.

But the two board members assigned to draft the resolution discovered that the district could not press claims against other countries because international law protects governments from being sued by each other.

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Under the resolution approved Thursday, the school board will demand that the Immigration and Naturalization Service count the district's illegal immigrant students and determine their countries of origin. Then trustees will ask the U.S. government to reimburse the district for the costs of educating them and to negotiate with other countries to recover the costs.

Trustee Robert Stewart defended the resolution Thursday with figures showing that more than 5,000 of the district's 30,000 students are illegal immigrants. If the government were to pick up the tab for educating those students, he said, the district would be able to spend $5,125 a year per student, up from the $4,205 it spends now.

"The resolution makes no mention of removing students from any school," Stewart said. "I would never vote for that. We're just asking for fairness in funding."

Martin, who acknowledged that his idea may never be implemented, said he has grown frustrated with the state's inability to implement Proposition 187, the voter-approved ballot initiative that calls for illegal immigrants to be excluded from public schools and other services.

An Anaheim police officer for 19 years, Martin is well-known in sections of the city such as the Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood, where most residents are Latino.

Some Jeffrey-Lynne residents expressed anger when they learned that the two Anaheim police officers assigned to help private security guards keep order at Thursday's meeting are with the city's gang unit.

"I find that offensive," resident Francisco Ceja said. "Where are the gangs here?"

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