School Provision Stripped From Immigration Bill

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Faced with the threat of a presidential veto, Republican lawmakers last week cut a bitterly contested school provision from a broad immigration-reform bill and vowed to pursue the school measure separately.

Many observers last week predicted that the move signaled the death knell for the provision, which would allow states to deny certain illegal-immigrant children a free public education. Although the so-called Gallegly amendment passed the House as a separate bill last week, it is likely to founder in the Senate, aides and lobbyists said.

"This becomes more of a symbolic vote," said Patricia Collins Murdock, a lobbyist for the National Education Association.

A House-Senate conference committee approved HR 2202, the broader immigration measure, last week after deciding to strip the school provision.

All 17 Republicans signed the conference agreement, with only one Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, joining them. The House version of HR 2202 had included the school provision. ("Pressure Builds To Nix School Ban for Illegal Immigrants," June 19, 1996.)

The school measure has been a big sticking point in congressional negotiations over immigration and triggered deep divisions among Republicans.

President Clinton vowed to veto any bill including the amendment named after its sponsor, Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif. The White House did not indicate last week whether the president would sign HR 2202 without the Gallegly amendment.

Hot-Button Issue

Some Republicans wanted to drop the Gallegly language to better the odds of passing a larger immigration-reform bill; others, including Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, wanted to force the president to veto the bill in an election year when immigration is a hot-button issue.

Backers of the school provision have revised it numerous times in an attempt to garner more support.

Under HR 4134, illegal-immigrant children who were enrolled in a public school between Sept. 1, 1996, and July 1, 1997, would not be affected, but states could decide to charge tuition or deny education to any such children enrolling after next July. Schools in states that chose to follow HR 4134 would have to check all students' immigration status.

The Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, estimated in a 1994 study that seven states heavily affected by immigration paid $3.1 billion to educate 641,000 undocumented children in fiscal 1993.

Many observers have viewed the Gallegly provision as a piece in a larger strategy to overturn the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe, which critics view as an unfunded federal mandate on states and localities. In that case, the court ruled 5-4 that illegal-immigrant children had the same right as other children to a free public education.

Two years ago, California voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative, Proposition 187, which would deny most public benefits--including education--to illegal immigrants. The courts, so far, have blocked implementation of the measure. ("Judge Rejects Prop. 187 Bans on Calif. Services," Nov. 29, 1995.)

In addition to attempting to curb immigration to the United States, HR 2202 would curtail certain public benefits to legal immigrants.

But the House and Senate conferees last week dropped a provision that observers said would have put college aid out of reach for many legal-immigrant students. The measure would have required legal immigrants to have their sponsors co-sign college-loan papers and report their sponsors' income when applying for federal college aid.

Lawmakers also dropped provisions that would have allowed for the deportation of legal immigrants who received more than one year of certain federal aid during their first five years living in the United States

Vol. 16, Issue 05

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