Bilingual and Immigrant Education

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'Safety Net' Programs: The federal government has moved to fill a void that immigrant and civil rights advocates say has left many immigrant families and their children without needed health and nutrition programs.

Vice President Al Gore last month released proposed regulations and policy guidance that observers say will clarify that legal immigrants and their families may use federal "safety net" programs without jeopardizing their immigration status.

Such programs include free or reduced-price school meals, immunization programs, Medicaid, and supplemental and emergency food assistance.

Under federal law, most immigrants must demonstrate that they are unlikely to become public charges, or reliant on public benefits, in order to stay in this country.

Recent immigration and welfare-reform laws have generated "widespread confusion" about whether a legal immigrant receiving certain publicly financed benefits can be deemed a public charge and put at risk of deportation, Mr. Gore said in a statement.

The new regulations and policy guidance to federal agencies offer "clear and consistent" guidance that the use of health care and other services won't put immigrants at risk, he said.

The policy guidance to agencies is effective immediately. The regulations are subject to a 60-day comment period before becoming final.

Cecilia Muñoz, an immigration-policy analyst with the Washington-based National Council of La Raza, said not just immigrants are affected. Immigrant parents have avoided enrolling their U.S. citizen children for services such as Medicaid or subsidized health insurance, she said.

Language Programs: A bill introduced in the U.S. House late last month seeks to expand existing rules surrounding parental notification and consent for enrolling students in federally supported programs for limited-English-proficient students.

The "Parents Know Best" Act would, for example, require parents to approve their child's placement in bilingual education or alternative LEP programs that receive federal aid. Current federal law requires that parents be given the chance to decline enrollment in such programs.

The measure, HR 1933, is expected to be discussed at a hearing set for later this month by the early-childhood panel of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The bill's sponsors are Republican Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona and Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

--Lynn Schnaiberg [email protected]

Vol. 18, Issue 39, Page 12

Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as Bilingual and Immigrant Education

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