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Educators Unsure of Implications Of Immigration Reforms

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As federal officials move to implement the landmark Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, educators are attempting to assess its potential consequences for the schools.

"It's too soon to know how this is affecting people,'' said Lori Orum, director of the innovative-education project for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil-rights group. "There is a great deal of confusion on the part of schools.''

The long-debated measure signed into law late last year requires schools, like other employers, to verify that employees hired since Nov. 7, 1986, are eligible to work in the United States. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service will begin enforcing that provision in June.

But for school districts with large numbers of foreign-born students, the law's effects are likely to be felt beyond the personnel office, immigration experts predict.

For example, they say, school officials should be prepared to help students who are illegal aliens, and their parents, meet the specifications set out by the I.N.S. to qualify for amnesty under the new law..

In some districts, administrators say they are gearing up to handle an expected increase in student requests for their attendance records, which may provide the only proof that a child moved to the United States by the Jan. 1, 1982, cut-off date for amnesty.

"During the next six to eight months, the schools could be providing a very valuable service by giving counseling, or at least information,'' said Rafael Valdivieso, vice president for research at the Hispanic Policy Development Project in Washington.

In addition, those tracking the law's implementation warn, schools should be prepared for an upsurge in stress-related problems among alien students, possible fluctuations in enrollment, and an increased demand for adult English-language courses.

To complicate matters, they add, school districts have no reliable way of knowing how many illegal aliens attend their schools. Under the 1982 Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe, children are entitled to a free public education regardless of their residency status.

Hiring Procedures

For most districts, observers say, the first adjustment they may have to make is in their hiring procedures.

"A lot of school districts never considered themselves to be employers,'' said Linda Wong, a lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. "They consider themselves to be providers of a service.''

The law states that all new employees are required to produce documents proving that they are eligible to work in this country.

Starting in June, the Immigration Service will issue citations to employers who have hired illegal aliens since Nov. 7. After the first citation, such employers will be subject to a fine, according to the I.N.S. Beginning in June of next year, the I.N.S. will fine employers for the first offense.

Proposed rules on employers' responsibilities for verifying workers' status were expected to be published by this week, according to the I.N.S.

Immigration-law experts stress that all new workers--not just those with foreign accents or surnames--have to show proper identification. To help avoid possible charges of discrimination against foreign-born applicants, the Houston school district, for example, is putting a poster describing the new hiring rule in every personnel employee's office.

But for most personnel officials interviewed, the major concern is that the law will require more paperwork.

"It's a lot of extra work,'' said Kathleen Price, a consultant in the personnel department of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which hired 10,000 new employees last year.

"People who don't have the sort of documents required for work may be delayed,'' she added.

Major Effort in Chicago

In Chicago, officials of the public school system say they have gone to exceptional lengths to prepare for the new law.

The district is "in a unique position to facilitate the process,'' said Linda Coronada, a school-board member who heads a task force formed to look at the law's effects on the schools.

"We've built up years of trust between the schools and parents,'' she said.

She said the the panel, composed of educators, lawyers, employers, and immigrant representatives,would consider ways to enforce the employer sanctions and to help Chicago's aliens become legal residents.

One of the committee's projects is setting up "information and aid'' sites in selected neighborhoods.

Other districts have also planned outreach efforts. In Los Angeles, the schools are working with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese to aid those applying for amnesty.

Pressure on Children

One concern raised frequently by immigration experts is that the uncertainties surrounding the law will trigger stress among children of undocumented workers.

Ms. Wong of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund said that California schoolchildren have already shown signs of such worries.

"They're finding a lot more stress among the students--some as young as 8 or 9,'' she said. "They're asking a lot of questions about what's going to happen to them, to their families, because of the immigration law.''

Ms. Wong said that most schools are ill equipped to deal with the problems facing alien families. "They do not have the necessary psychologists and school counselors to be sensitive to that particular segment of the school population.''

Tim Walter, special-projects coordinator for the Coalition of Florida Farmworker Organizations, added that the amnesty process could be arduous for many families, and that some may feel as though they are going "on trial'' when they appear before an I.N.S. panel.

"It can be a pretty harrowing experience,'' he said.

Workers trying to change their status may also face steep out-of-pocket expenses, the experts say. The I.N.S. has not yet determined the amount of the fee that applicants for amnesty will be charged, but estimates range as high as $200 for each person over age 14.

Those costs, added to legal fees for completing the application and charges for the required medical examination, could bring the total expense to well over $1,000 for an average family, Mr. Walter said.

Many students will be affected by the resulting financial strain, he said. "Schools should be looking for signs of stress, malnutrition, and poor nutrition.''

Effects on Enrollment

School districts may also see an impact on enrollment, experts say.

Since late last fall, for example, District of Columbia school officials have noted that about 10 percent of the systems's 3,000 Salvadoran pupils have left school to help support their families, or to leave the area.

Most of these dropouts, the officials say, are the children of undocumented workers, many of whom have lost their jobs since the law was passed, apparently because of employers' misunderstanding of its provisions.

"These students are leaving classes to work and to earn as much money as possible before they are deported,'' said one school official.

Mr. Valdivieso of the Hispanic Policy Development Project said that educators should not be surprised if this trend continues.

"Recent Central American immigrant teen-agers have a fragile relationship with school,'' he said. "If anything shakes them up, they drop out.''

Others say that many workerswho receive amnesty will bring their families to the United States--thus causing enrollments to rise.

In Dade County, Fla., school administrators predicted that their enrollment would eventually expand as a result of the law.

School Records

Those monitoring the law also noted that schools may be called on to help verify aliens' residence in the United States since the start of 1982. Illegal aliens who arrived after that date do not qualify for amnesty.

The Immigration Service estimates that between 1 million and 3.9 million aliens may apply for amnesty between May 1987 and May 1988, the period specified in the law.

For some illegal workers, school records may be the only way of documenting their residence, said Kate Herber, legislative counsel for the National School Boards Association. Many illegal aliens, she explained, have not kept personal files because of fears that such records would help lead to their detection.

"These people did not request rent receipts,'' Ms. Herber said. "If they had a bank account, it may have been in someone else's name. It will be very difficult for these people to prove that they were here--except for school records.''

Some districts have begun planning for the expected increase in requests for school-attendance records. School officials in Dade County, for example, are discussing whether to provide their students with a computer-printout copy of their records, or with a letter stating when they entered the school system.

Bailey Stewart, the district's director of attendance, said that the decision would depend on what the I.N.S. decides is acceptable.

But officials in the New York City school system said that they were planning no special procedure to help immigrants procure their records. A spokesman said the system already processes 16,000 to 20,000 such requests each year.

English Proficiency

Some districts are also concerned about the law's requirement that undocumented workers wishing to become permanent residents demonstrate a minimal proficiency in English and a knowledge of American history and government, or show that they are pursuing studies to gain such knowledge.

In some cities, English-as-a-second-language classes are already oversubscribed, and administrators are uncertain whether they can meet a further rise in demand.(See Education Week, Nov. 5, 1986.)

Financial help for schools providing such programs, however, may be forthcoming from the federal government. The Congress has already allocated $1 billion for each of the next four years to help reimburse states for the costs of legalizing aliens. Some of that money would be used for education.

In addition, according to a staff member of the House Education and Labor Committee, a bill may be introduced in the Congress in early April that would double the current $30 million allocation for the Emergency Immigration Education Act.

But some observers are doubtful that the aid will be enough to satisfy the demand.

Said La Raza's Ms. Orum: "The President is talking about an additional $30 million. The Los Angeles Unified School District alone could take that money.''

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