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Arizona Immigration Bills Spark High-School Protests at State Capitol

Two pieces of legislation recently introduced in the Legislature could keep students from enrolling in kindergarten through 12th grade and ban their access to higher education.

It was Tuesday around midnight when Ana, 16, received the text message: “Walk out tomorrow… It’s time to rise up, this is it. They will no longer intimidate us.”

The message came from fellow high school students, and Ana forwarded it to others via through Facebook. She was nervous about walking out of class to protest a new set of laws proposed by Arizona legislators -- laws that could keep undocumented students from attending public elementary and high school or college -- but she did.

Ana, who asked not to be identified by her full name out of concern for her family, stood Wednesday on the lawn of the Arizona State Capitol as groups of students arrived with signs reading “Educate Don’t Discriminate” and “Education is My Human Dignity.”

“It’s better to miss one day of school than to miss school for the rest of your life,” she said.

Educators Criticize Bills

Two pieces of legislation recently introduced in the Legislature could keep students such as Ana from enrolling in kindergarten through 12th grade and ban their access to higher education. One bill was sponsored by state Senate President Russell Pearce, the Republican behind last year’s SB 1070, which touched off a national furor.

The two new proposed bills are stirring up similar controversy. Critics argue that withholding education from children who come into this country illegally through no fault of their own would create an underclass and harm the state’s long-term interests.

“It will be a lot more expensive not to educate these kids,” said Garrett Smith, a history professor in Camelback High School in Phoenix. “Think of the cost of a whole generation with no education, nowhere to go, and no hope.”

Another separate provision applies to community colleges boards saying that they shall not allow undocumented students to enroll in class. Currently, undocumented students in Arizona have to pay out of state tuition to attend classes.

One provision of SB1611 would require parents of K-12 students to present proof that their children are in the United States legally. They would have 30 days from a child’s enrollment to verify citizenship by presenting documents from an approved list.

For parents who fail to comply, schools would be required to notify law-enforcement agencies. Under current law, parents need provide only some proof of a child's age, such as a certified copy of a birth certificate. But the law does not require that the birth certificate be from the United States.

Another section of SB 1611 would require community colleges boards to bar undocumented students.

The second bill, SB 1407, would require K-12 schools to submit data on the number of undocumented students enrolled in class, as well as those who are legal immigrants. Schools that withheld such data would be at risk of losing state and local funding.

U.S. Supreme Court Strategy

Former Democratic state Senator Alfredo Gutiérrez, editor of La Frontera Times , said lawmakers’ strategy is similar to that of another bill that recently caused a national stir. That legislation aims to force the U.S. Supreme Court to reinterpret the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees U.S. citizenship to anyone born in this country. Conservative Arizona lawmakers hope to deny citizenship to children born to parents illegally in the United States.

As with the birthright-citizenship bill, legislators introduced SB 1407 and 1611 to prompt “an immediate lawsuit,” Gutiérrez said. “What they are doing is setting up a Supreme Court challenge.”

Jack Chin, a University of Arizona law professor, said chances are good that these bills are unconstitutional.

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