Immigration could trouble Missouri school districts

Maria Kalaitzandonakes

Sen. Will Kraus of Lee’s Summit recently proposed bill, SB590, looks to combat illegal immigration in Missouri. The bill passed the Senate General Laws Committee Jan. 24 and is now waiting to go on to the floor.

If passed, the bill would require schools to ask for proper documentation of students, and if they cannot present “the student’s original birth certificate or a certified copy of thereof,” the school must label him as an illegal immigrant.

The child could continue to attend school, but the administration would keep an official list with his name along with the names of English Language Study students. The names are meant to record and analyze the cost they have on the state’s budget. The General Assembly would hear the numbers, and the legislatures would weigh the pros and cons of the costs associated with the child. The bill says the list would not be used to deport any illegal immigrants.

“Because of the Supreme Court case that says we must educate children even if they are illegal, there is a cost,” Kraus said. “Because the federal government made this choice, some of the money needs to come from there. … The numbers found through this bill would help Missouri do that.”

ELL teacher Peggy White fears that through the bill’s inspection, the ELL program could face possible cuts which she believes could harm the ELL students’ abilities to succeed in America.

“The bill will single out immigrant kids and ELL to show that the program is costing the state money, which, of course it is. Every program costs money,” White said. “It is imperative, however, that these children receive education just like the other kids in the school.”

Kraus said the ELL portion of the bill was well-intentioned and “strictly for legal purposes.” He does not wish for any programs to be cut. Rather, he wants the federal government to reimburse the state.

“Every program costs money,” White said. “It is imperative, however, that [ELL] children receive education just like the other kids in the school.”

Kraus said the ELL portion of the bill was well intentioned and “strictly for legal purposes.” He does not wish for any programs to be cut. Rather, he wants the federal government to reimburse the state.

The bill “puts the district in a very difficult situation,” said Michelle Baumstark, Community Relation Coordinator of Columbia Public Schools. “We are not here to be immigration [services]. … We’re here to educate the children that come to us from the public.”

The bill also requires all immigrants to prove their citizenship at any lawful stop, detention or arrest if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” of their citizenship and charged with a class C misdemeanor.

Guzman and other immigration activists met with local Sen. Kurt Schaffer at a public meeting to explain why SB590 is detrimental to the community. Schaffer believes illegal immigration in Missouri is a non-issue and doubts the bill’s ability to pass.

Guzman’s group hopes Schaffer’s prediction will be right but is not convinced. She worries the educational future of immigrants in Missouri is endangered, for both ELL students and the student’s whose parents are illegally residing in America.

“If a parent is illegal, they will get scared of deportation and won’t send their kids to school … and if they cut the program where kids learn English they won’t be able to have a good life here,” Guzman said. It “just interrupts the kid’s education. It isn’t the school’s place to judge which kids they will teach. … Public school is not the immigration department. It’s a place of learning.”
By Maria Kalaitzandonakes