Thursday, December 13, 2007

Immigrations and schools

Recent list work: 9 (done with stats. Whoo!), 38 (yay), 37 (arguably)

This piece from the NY Times caught my eye today. It concerns the educational challenges of illegal immigrants. As the article points out, since a 1982 Supreme Court case, public schools have had to accept and educate illegal immigrants through high school, but that requirement stops at college.

Let me start off by saying that I call a spade a spade. I don't like the term "undocumented", because it glosses over the face that people who do not have visas or citizenship are in this country illegally. If you immigrate to a country without following that country's laws on becoming a citizen or leaving by the end of your visa, you have immigrated illegally. Hence, you are an illegal immigrant. That does not make you evil, it does not necessarily make you a bad person, but it is a description of your legal status which isn't euphemistic.

That being said, I have a lot of sympathy for individuals who immigrated as children, regardless of whether that immigration was legal or not. At the age of 6, no one should be expected to understand international law. If we agree that you're not old enough to be legally responsible for crimes like murder and theft, which are generally pretty obviously wrong, it is not reasonable to expect you to responsible for moving somewhere with your parents or aunt or whatever. This seems like common sense to me.

I dislike that the federal Congress has passed a law barring states from offering in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. This does not seem to me to be the job of the federal government. I don't believe states should be required to offer such tuition discounts, but I don't think they should be barred from it either. I applaud the states which have found ways around this, most notably by basing in-state tuition on having graduated from a school in that state rather than a legal residence.. The only problem I foresee with that is for people who take time off between one graduation and the next enrollment, and potentially move across a state line in the interim. I imagine there must be a way around this.

Fundamentally, I think something needs to be done about giving children who were brought to this country illegally a path to citizenship. I'm not sure what the best plan is, though. Making a bright-age-line is the immediate idea, whereby you could gain citizenship if you immigrated illegally before age X, but not if you were older. The problem with that is that the most logical age, legally, is 18, and I find that troublesome. It seems like that would encourage a lot of 17 year olds to sneak across the border, as they'd be old enough to realize the tremendous advantages that come with US citizenship. But what age would be fair? 14? 12? 16? I don't know.

Then there are issues related to the effects this would have on legal immigration. As it is, for instance, it's easier to gain legal immigration rights if you have close relatives who are citizens--most notably, spouse, parent, or child. If we grant citizenship to children brought here illegally, we would be increasing the probability that their parents would then be granted citizenship, so we would in effect be giving an advantage to someone who broke the rules for others as well as themselves. You'd be more likely to be allowed to stay permanently if you smuggled additional people across the border. That's not right. But, at the same time, I like the idea of equality before the law for all citizens. It would strike me as very much against the notions of equality to say, for instance, that legal citizens who earned their citizenship after being brought here illegally as children are *not* allowed to use their citizenship to help bring their parents in, which other legal citizens are.

I don't know what's to be done. Moreso than most political hot-buttons, I feel this issue is inherently complex. On the one hand, fully open borders are not a viable solution, as feel-good as that solution might seem; the prosperity of our country would simply attract more people than we can truly afford to let in, and our quality of life would drop by too much for that to be feasible. On the other hand, our quality of life would also drop if we sealed all of our borders entirely. Our country attracts many highly educated and skilled workers from India, China, South Korea, and the industrialized world. We bring in a lot of hard workers from Latin America, many of whom are unfairly branded with stereotypes about lazy Mexicans. Our agriculture depends in large part on unskilled migrant farm labor, and many of our unpleasant service jobs in food service, sanitation, meat packing, etc are filled by immigrants because few citizens are willing to take those jobs for what they pay. For the most part, immigrants come here to stay, and people who are willing to travel long distances in search of a better life are the sort of people you want to have on your side. It's clear to anyone thinking about this issue rationally that a balance needs to be struck. What I'm unclear on is where that balance should be.

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