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Pressure Builds To Nix School Ban for Illegal Immigrants

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Washington

Republican leaders came under increased pressure last week to abandon a proposal to allow states to deny illegal immigrants a public education--some of it from their own party members.

Nearly half of the Senate's members--47 senators, including five Republicans--sent a letter to GOP leaders expressing opposition to what has become known as the Gallegly amendment.

The provision, sponsored by Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., will be one of the most difficult issues lawmakers must resolve when a House-Senate conference committee meets to hammer out differences in the two chambers' broad immigration-reform bills. The committee likely will meet soon, observers said last week. (See Education Week, April 24 and March 27, 1996.)

The House voted overwhelmingly in March to adopt the Gallegly amendment when it passed its immigration-reform bill, HR 2202. The Senate version of the bill passed last month and does not include such a measure.

At least 60 of the 100 senators must vote to cut off a filibuster, a tactic that may be used to block passage of the immigration bill if the Gallegly amendment is included in a final version.

Specifically, the amendment would allow states to deny a free, public K-12 education to immigrant children who are in the United States illegally, or to treat undocumented children as nonresidents who must pay tuition to attend school in a particular state.

From the moment the House approved the Gallegly provision, the measure has raised the ire of education, law-enforcement, and immigrant-rights groups.

Clinton administration officials--including Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and Attorney General Janet Reno--repeatedly have said they would recommend that the president veto any immigration bill with such a provision. Observers have speculated that Republicans would include the provision in the name of presidential politics. The strategy, they suggest, is to force Mr. Clinton to veto the bill at a time when immigration control is a popular political issue--particularly in electoral-vote-heavy states like California.

"The 'job magnet,' not education, drives illegal immigration," the Senate group's letter said. "Illegal immigration should be controlled at the borders and airports, not in the classroom."

Action in the Courts

While the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., support the Gallegly amendment, other prominent members of the GOP have voiced their opposition.

Former President Bush, for example, in a June 4 speech to the National Association of Mortgage Brokers in Reno, Nev., criticized the measure. Other Republican opponents include Mr. Bush's son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, as well as New York Gov. George E. Pataki and New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Plyler v. Doe that undocumented children have a right to a free public education. In light of the Plyler decision, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., brought up an amendment that year nearly identical to Mr. Gallegly's. Mr. Dole was among those who voted then to kill the measure.

In 1994, California voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot initiative Proposition 187, which seeks to deny most public benefits--including education--to illegal immigrants. The courts, so far, have blocked implementation of the measure. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1995.)

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