Whose Children Are These? A Rational Approach to Educating Illegal-Alien Schoolchildren

Article excerpt

Introduction

Many Americans believe that illegal immigrants are draining the country's scare financial resources. This has sparked a vigorous debate in national politics as to whether immigrants, regardless of their legal status, should be entitled to the same rights and privileges as U.S. citizens. The federal government requires that all persons are entitled to certain benefits, including K-12 education, if they reside in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution to mean that every person, as opposed to every citizen, is entitled to the same benefits offered to any person in the United States, citizen or not. While "aliens have no constitutional right to enter the United States, once they are here they are protected under due process of law and equal protection under the law" afforded to U.S. citizens. (1) Opponents of this policy complain that it rewards illegal immigration, and encourages more of it. They also object to illegal immigrants receiving social services because of a belief that they do not contribute to the U.S. economy.

This study examines how federally mandated education policies for illegal-alien schoolchildren places a disproportionate financial burden on certain state and local government budgets. Using a rational model of public policy where the choice of policy is determined by weighing various alternatives to find the one which will provide the maximum benefit for society as a whole, this study explores several options available to the federal government to assist states with the cost of educating illegal-alien schoolchildren. After weighing the potential benefits and consequences of each alternative, this study recommends the adoption of a state-reimbursement program as the best policy alternative. It will allow states to recoup some of their expenditures on public education for illegal-alien schoolchildren, and provide for the collection of much-needed census data to formulate future immigration policy.

It's the Economy, Stupid!

Political scientist Robert M. Sanders notes that "[t]hose who support the elimination of social services to illegal aliens argue that such programs attract illegal immigration. They contend that illegal-alien households cost the federal government approximately $26 billion in social services and criminal justice system expenses annually." (2) The demographics of the immigrant population, however, refute this claim. Historically, immigrants have come to the United States primarily for economic opportunity and the promise of higher wages. (3) The average immigrant has little to gain from the receipt of social services. As Peter Skerry, a specialist in immigration policy, argues:

   The typical immigrant, illegal as well as legal, is a
   'target-earner' who intends to stay in the United States only long
   enough to amass a certain amount of capital and then return home.
   So preoccupied are immigrants with earning and saving money, that
   they endure highly undesirable living conditions, work two or three
   shifts a day, and reserve little or no time for socializing or
   recreation. Social services and other amenities do not appear to
   loom large in the calculus of such individuals. (4)

Skerry's description of immigrants as 'target earners' is supported by the National Research Council (NRC), which found that approximately 800,000 immigrants enter the United States annually, but about one-third return home. (5) Those who remain in the United States, according to a 2007 report issued by the President's Council of Economic Advisors, become:

   ... a critical part of the U.S. workforce and contribute to
   productivity growth and technological advancement. They make up 15
   percent of all workers and even larger shares of certain
   occupations such as construction, food services, and health care.
   Approximately 40 percent of Ph. …