Just when it looked like the immigration debate couldn't get more controversial, a new scandal has surfaced. U.S. school districts along the California-Mexican border are hiring officials to follow students home to make sure the youths live in America. District staffers are also checking the papers of pupils to determine residency.
While school districts such as the Unified School District of Calexico and the Mountain Empire School District reportedly support the move, other districts balk at hiring employees to investigate the residency status of students. San Diego Unified is one such district, as is Sweetwater Unified.
"Our mission is to educate, not to become immigration agents," Lillian Leopold of Sweetwater Unified told Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión.
The Calexico district, for instance, has reportedly hired staffers to photograph students crossing the border and the papers students show to prove residency. The district began taking such drastic measures five years ago at the request of parents, according to La Opinión. Then, Calexico Unified expelled 300 students found to be Mexican nationals.
The conundrum here is that federal law bars schools from questioning students about immigration status, but California law requires districts to collect student addresses. So, how are Mexican students able to enroll in American schools? Many of the children are related to people who live on the American side of the border and use the address of family members as proof that they live within the confines of a district. That's why the Calexico district has hired people to literally follow students home, as a child may have provided a legitimate address of a family member with whom they spend time occasionally while actually residing fulltime in Mexico.
Such scenarios aren't just taking place in California but in Arizona and Nevada, too. School districts throughout the Southwest pay a heavy price when it's discovered that large numbers of their students aren't, in fact, U.S. nationals. The Arizona Department of Education forced the Ajo Unified School District to return $1.2 million after officials determined that the funds were used to educate about 100 students from Mexico. Because education funding is directly linked to student enrollment, districts risk losing millions by educating children who cross the border to receive an education. So, what's the solution?
I'll be honest and say I'm not exactly sure. Do I think that school districts on the border should be punished for unknowingly educating Mexican nationals? No. And the thought of school officials following children home to snap their photographs and check their papers is distressing. Being tracked like animals probably terrifies these children, and why should these kids be traumatized over decisions their caregivers made to give them an education?
Before anyone proceeds to bash the Mexican parents in question, I want to point out that American parents use similar tactics all the time to get their children into better school districts. Parents in cities, for instance, use the addresses of family members in the suburbs to enroll children in better, wealthier school districts. Why? Because they want the best for their children. The Mexican parents are no different. What this trend indicates then is that access to quality education should be a universal right, no matter one's race, class or nationality.