Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Del Rio

Here are two stories on the Del Rio situation. Interesting that the Associated Press failed to state that the district is gonna lose several million dollars if they actually go through with kicking out the students.

Still, at this point hasn't the damage already been done to these students. Not only are they humiliated at the bridge, but what could be going on in the classroom. Once these students were identified or even before, did the district and schools already treat these immigrant children as unworthy of being in the district?

Even if parents scramble to rent an apartment or guardianship is changed, the damage has been done. A generation of Del Rio children have now had their authority figures outwardly "other" themselves or their fellow classmates.

-E.G.

Del Rio schools chief says turning back students at border was policy issue, not immigration stance

12:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The Associated Press

DEL RIO, Texas – School district Superintendent Kelt Cooper says he's uncomfortable with attempts to make him a cause celebre for either side of the immigration debate because of his crackdown on students from across the river in Mexico attending his schools.

ERIC GAY/The Associated PressStudents walk home after classes at Lamar Elementary in Del Rio. School officials there warned parents of students crossing from Mexico that they'd be expelled if they could not prove residency. " width="175" height="112">
ERIC GAY/The Associated Press
Students walk home after classes at Lamar Elementary in Del Rio. School officials there warned parents of students crossing from Mexico that they'd be expelled if they could not prove residency.

"We have a law. We have a policy. We follow it," said Cooper, superintendent of the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District.

Students in northern Mexico have skirted residency requirements to attend U.S. public schools for generations, but Cooper figured he had to do something this school year when he got word that about 400 school-age children were crossing the international bridge at Del Rio each day with backpacks but no student visas.

He directed district officials to stake out the bridge and warn students they could face expulsion if they don't prove they live in the district.

Immigration status isn't an issue. A decades-old Supreme Court ruling prevents school officials from even asking about citizenship. Regardless, according to customs officials, students who use the bridge enter the U.S. legally because they are U.S. citizens, permanent residents with green cards or Mexicans with student visas.

But for tuition-free public school attendance, state law requires students to live in the district.

Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Cooper's bridge stakeout prevented parents from taking advantage of a "duty-free education."

"It's very obvious the parents are cheating the system. The kids are getting quality education without contributing," he said.

David Hinojosa of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said he's concerned about students being singled out because they were on an international bridge before school.

Cooper, who conducted similar port-of-entry checks several years ago in Nogales, Ariz., said no Del Rio students have been expelled so far. He said that, within days of his stakeout, most parents offered documentation. Some parents are scrambling to find apartments in Del Rio.

The Associated Press


District cracks down on ‘illegal’ students



Published September 10, 2009

It's one of the public school district's worst-kept secrets – children from Mexico crossing the border to attend Del Rio schools.

“This has been going on for years. Everyone knows about it. When you see truckloads of kids walking across the bridge with backpacks after school, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where they're coming from,” said Cheryl Weimer, who had five children come up through the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District more than 13 years ago.

But on Wednesday morning, district officials were at the port that separates Del Rio from its sister city, Ciudad Acuña, Coah., Mex., with a message for parents.

“Your child was observed crossing into the United States from Mexico to attend school…Your child will be withdrawn from the school district immediately,” reads a letter handed from district officials to parents at the port Wednesday morning.

The letter directs parents to the district's Office of Pupil Services to provide proof of residence in the United States.

Superintendent Kelt Cooper said the move came after the district received a report that more than 540 school age children were recorded crossing into the U.S.

“When we have vans with Coahuila license plates dropping kids off at elementary schools and a report that says hundreds of kids are coming across…we have a problem,” says Cooper. “With these kinds of numbers, it was out of control…it was right in our face.”

Under state law, the only students allowed a free public education in the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District are those who reside within it, and Cooper says it’s his job to enforce that law.

“I am commanded by the laws of this state and the policies of this district,” said Cooper. “I also have a duty to our taxpayers.”

But the loss of students also means a loss of revenue for the district, which receives state funding based on student enrollment and attendance.

“Is this going to hurt my budget? It's a $2.7 million loss, of course it's going to hurt,” said Cooper. “But the fact is, that wasn't our money to begin with.”

Children crossing the Rio Grande to attend school is nothing new and is something Cooper, who was born, raised and spent most of his career in border communities, has seen before.

In 2002 Cooper, then the superintendent of the Nogales school district in Arizona, was part of an initiative in that state to weed Mexico residents out of its school systems.

“This has been going on for decades,” said Cooper. “It's a game of cat-and- mouse and it's not specific to Del Rio.”

Cooper says he's seen families go to great lengths to get their children into schools.

“Parents will come over and establish residences for a month before school starts. They rent a house or apartment, get utilities in their name and register their children for school. Then a month later they're back in Mexico,” says Cooper, adding that the issue has nothing to do with immigration status, citing a 1982 Supreme Court case that prohibits districts from even asking that question.

“It all comes down to residence. Does the child live in our district or not?” said Cooper.

Carla Gonzalez says she's heard that phrase repeatedly since yesterday morning.

Gonzalez, who says she lives in Del Rio with her sister-in-law on the city's south side, but travels to Mexico periodically to visit her deported husband, was caught with her three children in Wednesday's crackdown.

“We live here the majority of the time, and they're sitting there saying I can't visit my husband and my kids can't see their father? It's just crazy, and a lot of people are going to be upset about this,” says Gonzalez. “They aren't taking any special circumstances into consideration.”

Gonzalez said she spent much of Wednesday trying to establish she lives in the district, but to little avail.

“I even took my sister-in-law with me so she could tell them I live with her, but that's not good enough,” said Gonzalez. “I don't have bills here in my name, it's not my house.”

She doesn't know what will happen if she can't work the issue out with the district.

“I guess I'm going to have to seriously look at home schooling my kids,” said Gonzalez this morning. “I've been married 20 years, and we're not going to split because of this.”

Though Cooper says he has no intention of backing off the law, he believes there might be a solution.

He hopes to present a plan to the public school board within the month that would allow non-resident children to attend Del Rio schools, provided they pay tuition and if space allows.

He says the district is also planning to apply for clearance from the state to allow Mexico children who hold student visas to attend schools at a cost.

“We do not have the authority to pass this cost on to the taxpayer,” explains Cooper.

Linda Eagles, who had three children in public school over the years, agrees.

“You know what, we pay for schooling because we live here, because we pay taxes, and our children deserve it. It is not fair that we have to foot the bill for children whose parents are not paying their way. I know that sounds mean, but it's true,” said Eagles, who said charging tuition would be a fair solution.

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