Saturday, November 7, 2009


I am posting the following article because I want to post the letters I wrote in response to it and to the response the author, in turn, posted to my response, in The Oregonian (Portland). As my first letter, following, indicates, I am horrified by the attitudes and proposals expressed in the article. But it would not be seemly or meaningful to print my letters without also including the context in which they were written.

Illegal immigrants burden Portland-area schools
Guest Columnist
October 03, 2009, 5:01PM

By Richard F. LaMountain

In 1982, in its Plyler v. Doe ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court obligated America's public elementary and secondary schools to educate children who are illegal immigrants. Since then, Americans have doled out untold billions to this end.

With a new school year recently begun, let's look at what Plyler costs taxpayers in one Portland-area school district: No. 48 in Beaverton. As children from Latin America comprise the great majority of students here illegally, we'll start by examining some national statistics regarding Hispanics and work our way down to the local level.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, some 34 percent of the more than 45 million Hispanics residing in America are under 18. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that Mexico and its southern neighbors contribute four-fifths of our illegal immigrants (commonly believed to number 12 million to 20 million); the Federation for American Immigration Reform, that some 15 percent of illegal immigrants are school-aged children. However sensitive the fact may be, what all this means is that between 9.4 percent and 15.6 percent of Hispanic children in America are here illegally.

From these figures, how many Hispanic illegal-immigrant students can we estimate are enrolled in the Beaverton School District? In the most-recently completed (2008-09) school year, according to the district's Website, student enrollment was 37,552; 7,702 of the students were Hispanic. Between 724 and 1,202 of those Hispanic students -- 9.4 percent to 15.6 percent of their total number -- likely were here illegally. What did they cost taxpayers? According to the district, in 2008-09 Beaverton schools' base per-student expenditure was some $8,400 (the general-fund operating budget of $315.6 million divided by student enrollment of 37,552). Each English-language learner -- which, by very conservative estimate, likely included half, or between 362 and 601, of the district's Hispanic illegal-immigrant students -- cost taxpayers another $3,000.

More, each child participating in the free- and reduced-lunch program got a federal subsidy of some $260. Washington County's Hispanic children, according to the county's Commission on Children and Families, are four times more likely to live in poverty than its white children; possibly three-quarters of the district's Hispanic illegal-immigrant students, then, received taxpayer-subsidized lunches.

So the total estimated cost of Beaverton School District's Hispanic illegal-immigrant students in the 2008-09 school year: between $7.3 million and $12.1 million. Add the estimated one-fifth of illegal-immigrant students who are other than Hispanic, and taxpayers likely spent between $9.1 million and $15.2 million educating and feeding all the district's illegal-immigrant students -- an amount equal to 2.8 percent to 4.8 percent of the general-fund operating budget.

Now, to counter recession-induced budget shortfalls, in the past year Portland-area schools have reduced teaching staffs, increased classroom sizes, and slashed extracurricular activities. It must be asked: If not for illegal-immigrant students, how many new teachers could have been hired and existing ones retained? How much more attention could teachers devote to their other students? How many arts and athletic programs could be saved or expanded?

The bottom line is this: Americans do not owe educations to illegal immigrants. Our first, foremost, and most sacred responsibility is to our own children. And we beggar our children's education -- and future -- when we spend scarce tax dollars on those who are in our nation illegally.

Portland-area school boards should lobby Oregon's Congressional delegation to introduce legislation to overturn Plyler, and to allow America's school districts to require proof of U.S. citizenship or legal U.S. residence from their students.

Richard F. LaMountain is a former assistant editor of Conservative Digest magazine. He lives in Cedar Mill.

My letter in response to LaMountain came out several days later:

Richard LaMountain wants Congress to overturn Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 Supreme Court decision prohibiting public schools from excluding children who are undocumented immigrants. Since Plyler held that excluding such children violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, it cannot be reversed by Congress alone.

It would take a constitutional amendment.

More fundamentally, excluding these children would be horrible public policy, as even the four justices who dissented in Plyler recognized.

"Were it our business to set the nation's social policy, I would agree without hesitation that it is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children --including illegal aliens --of an elementary education," wrote the four dissenting justices in the Supreme Court decision, including Chief Justice Warren Burger. "I fully agree that it would be folly --and wrong --to tolerate creation of a segment of society made up of illiterate persons."


DeLespinasse is an emeritus professor of political science at Adrian College in Michigan.

LaMountain then replied to my letter as follows:

No amendment needed

In his Oct. 7 letter rebutting my recent commentary ("Costs come at expsense of programs, other students, Oct. 4), Paul deLespinasse claimed that a constitutional amendment---and not mere legislation, as I asserted in myh commentary---would be necessary to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Plyler v. Doe . . . .

As per the Constitution's Article III, Section 2, Congress determines the subjections over which federal courts have jurisdiction. To overturn Plyler, then, Congress would need merely to pass a law doing so--a law that invoked Article III, Section 2 to exempt the law from federal courts' review.

Richard F. LaMountain
Northwest Portland

I then tried to get the Oregonian to publish a letter explaining why LaMountain's take on Article III, Section 2 is profoundly incorrect as a matter of constitutional law. However the Oregonian, after much hemming and hawing, decided not to publish my letter even though they had originally agreed to do so.

The text of my proposed letter follows:

In his recent letter to the editor, Richard F. LaMountain claims that Article II Section 2 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to take away the jurisdiction of the federal courts to hear certain cases. But Article III Section 2 does no such thing. It only gives Congress the power to take away the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to hear some kinds of cases on appeal. If Congress were to do this, the lower federal courts would still have jurisdiction over such cases, but their decisions could not be appealed to the Supreme Court. This could result in the Constitution meaning different things in different parts of the country, a very unattractive prospect.

Paul deLespinasse

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