Regardless of the veracity of President Trump’s negative immigration rhetoric, it is undoubtedly sparking and emboldening anti-immigration groups. Constitutional battles that have long been over and won are creeping back with validation from the new administration.
In California, the American Children First organization is leading an initiative that seeks to keep undocumented children out of public schools and to charge undocumented parents of United States citizen children “non-resident” tuition. On April 5, 2017, the that the organization had filed a notice of intent with the San Bernardino County registrar of voters in order to circulate a petition for their proposed ballot measure. The organization’s founder, Joseph Turner, told the LA Times that he felt “invigorated” by President Trump and intends to bring these anti-immigration initiatives to the national level by first targeting a small school district. The initiative targets the Yucaipa-Mesa Joint Unified School District, which includes both San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
While the suggestion of preventing any child from accessing education is appalling, it is further troubling that this proposal is even seeing the light of day. For more than 30 years, our country has decisively protected equal opportunity in free public education. Perhaps Mr. Turner missed the memo – his proposals were already outlawed by our country’s highest court in 1982. In Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court held that states cannot deny public education to students based on their immigration status. The decision remains the law of the land.
American Children First’s initiative is also inconsistent with our country’s recent common sense immigration policies for immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors. In 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative was announced. The program provides work authorization and a temporary deportation shield for immigrants who entered the country as children and have no significant criminal history. The future of DACA remains uncertain, as no definitive plans have been announced as to whether it will continue and what will ultimately happen to the recipients.
Since January, we immigration and civil rights attorneys have had our hands full. We have opposed and attained injunctions for the discriminatory Executive Orders. Many of us sped to airports around the country to represent incoming immigrants who otherwise had authorization to lawfully enter the U.S. Sadly, I am certain our battles are only beginning.
Our country is better than this. Our immigration policies, and all our laws, must be consistent with the constitution. Accordingly, I sincerely hope that the American Children First organization’s unlawful, intolerant initiatives are an anomaly and not a foreshadowing of America’s future.
Written by Katie Sarreshteh, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee