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Pass In Your Papers, Kids

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Parents may be sending their kids to school with more than just notebooks and lunches next year. If Texas House Bill 22 passes, kids will be bringing their birth certificates or immigration papers to school too.

One of many anti-immigration bills filed by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball— the same Debbie Riddle who claimed on national television last year that the United States faced the threat of an intricate “terror babies” plot—HB 22 mandates that parents submit their children’s birth certificates or immigration papers to enroll them in Texas public and charter schools. The bill would require parents to inform the school of their child’s immigration status in the first 30 days of the school year.

The bill also would require schools to report the number of students who are citizens, immigrants or are enrolled in bilingual or special-language classes to the Texas Education Agency.

“This bill is really more boring than people make it out to be,” Riddle’s Chief of Staff John English told the Observer. “Right now we are concerned with collecting data and numbers. Our aim is to end the guessing game of how much the state is spending on illegal immigrants.”

But school boards, administrators, teachers and families might not find the bill so boring.

Dax Gonzales, spokesman for The Texas Association of School Boards, fears the bill will create an adversarial relationship between schools and parents. “If parents start recognizing schools as immigration enforcers they will no longer want to have anything to do with the school,” Gonzales said, “This would just be an additional burden to the student already below the level playing field.” 

Then there is another concern: Parents without immigration papers may opt to not send their kids to school at all. “The unintended effect of this bill would be to discourage a large number of school-aged children from exercising their constitutional right to education,” says Dotty Griffith, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “While this bill may not explicitly deny an undocumented student a right to education, the consequence will be just that.”

Because public education funding is based on attendance numbers, anything that discourages parents from putting their kids in the classroom would take money out of school districts’ pockets. 

Which brings us to the final issue here: money. With a $27 billion budget deficit, legislators are sure to cut education funding this session. Not only will school districts have to reduce spending, but HB 22 would require the districts to somehow find the money, personnel and time for collecting, filing, and reporting birth certificates and immigration papers.

Jackie Lain, director of government relations at the Texas Association of School Boards, put it simply, “There are immigration officials and there are schools. The school’s role is to teach kids.”