Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Corruption of Blood and In-State Tuition

Colorado recently extended in-state tuition eligibility to certain unauthorized immigrants. This was a good move. Unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States when they were children, and subsequently graduated from a State high school, should be treated the same as resident citizens who likewise grew up in a state and graduated from a state high school.

One opponent of Colorado's move said that because unauthorized immigrants pay very little in taxes, their children should not be given the same opportunities as US children. He is correct that unauthorized immigrants do not pay as much taxes as US citizens, on average. Unauthorized immigrants pay less taxes, because they tend to be very poor in comparison to US citizens. However. the fact that someone is poor (and therefore pays less taxes) is not a good reason to treat them differently under the law in education.

First, it is worth stating that unauthorized immigrants do pay some taxes. Unauthorized immigrants do make some (though not a lot of) money, and they pay taxes with that money (sales taxes, income taxes, and in many cases property taxes). Some people mistakenly believe that immigrants do not pay income taxes, but the evidence that is available suggests that the vast majority do pay income taxes, because they are working using false information--other peoples' IDs and social security numbers. Yet they do not get the same benefits for paying taxes. Despite paying taxes, unauthorized immigrants do not have access to the vast majority of public benefits. Unauthorized immigrants are NOT entitled to any benefits besides public education and emergency medical care. This means that many unauthorized immigrants are actually paying more in taxes than the receive in benefits.

Second,the fact that a child's parents are are poor (and can't pay very much in taxes) is not a good reason to require them to pay more for a public education, because this is inimical to the idea of equal opportunity. In order for the US to be a country of equality and opportunity it is critical that all people be able to compete on an even playing field. Therefore, it is essential that all children be afforded an opportunity to get a quality education.

Third, excluding the children of unauthorized immigrants from US schools will create a permanent underclass in the United States. If these children are treated differently at public schools, they will be much less likely to gain a complete education and become productive members of society. If the goal is to collect taxes from immigrants, than educating the next generation is critical. If these children never receive a good education, they will continue to be a burden to the US. Without an education they will be forced to rely on the same low-paying jobs as their parents, and will likely be forced into a system of low-paid seasonal labor that currently fuels unauthorized immigration in the US. Thus, treating these children differently contributes to the perpetuation of the status quo--a permanent underclass of cheap labor. Because discriminatory laws in education perpetuate a permanent underclass of exploitable labor, such education laws have the same effect as discriminatory education laws in the Jim Crow South. Because immigrants pay less taxes because they are poor, and because treating people differently because they are poor can create a permanent underclass that offends notions of equal opportunity, it is good policy to treat children of unauthorized immigrants the same as the children of U.S. citizens in education.

An opponent of the Colorado policy stated that "there are many US citizens that already struggle to pay for their own children's schooling, many of whom are qualified to receive grants but are not awarded such grants because they are not a protected minority under affirmative action laws." Unauthorized immigrants do not qualify for federal grants. Because unauthorized immigrants do not qualify for federal grants, US citizens are not competing with these children for grants. So no one need worry about unauthorized immigrant children competing with US citizens for federal grants.

Finally, my opponent stated that he believed it was unfair to reward unauthorized immigrants by providing education to their children. He said, "[h]ow is it equal or fair for US citizens to bear the burden of raising and educating the children of individuals who have no respect for US laws?" I believe I've already answered this question somewhat, but I would also point out that my opponent is here are shifting the analysis from the children to the parents. A good argument can be made that such parents should not be given public benefits, because doing so encourages unauthorized migration (and in fact such parents do NOT receive public benefits for this very reason). However, the children of unauthorized children did nothing to warrant punishment. Many of them were brought to the United States when they were infants. One of these children may have parents that are Mexican, but for them Mexico is a distant place to which they have no connection. They are American. It is not fair for the law to treat such children differently just because their parents made a bad choice.

Our founders agreed that people should not be punished for the crimes of their parents. In England there were legal punishments that attached to the children of wrongdoers based on "corruption of blood." Our founders explicitly rejected such laws and wrote in our Constitution that there shall be no such "bills of attainder." Again, it is not equal or fair to treat someone differently because their parents made a mistake.

We are a nation of immigrants descended from colonists who invaded the US and took it from its native inhabitants. Because we are also the descendants of illegal immigrants, we have no claim to preferential treatment over an immigrant who came her as a child and is now seeking to better herself through education. We are a nation of immigrants. If anything justifies our past, it is our progress in realizing equal opportunity under the law. Therefore, Colorado's choice to extend in-state tuition to the children of unauthorized immigrants is good policy.