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Cont1,704110/Laurence Jolidon Behind the School Door The fight in certain dark corners of Texas to deny a public education to Mexican-American children who are not legal residents goes on, bitterly, fruitlessly, meanly. The last stages of the battle are being fought in Brownsville, on the border, where the school district has reluctantly given in to a federal court order to enroll all children, without regard to their parents’ citizenship status or theirs. But the resistance continues. “You can rest assured we’re not going to take this sitting down,” said Brownsville school board president Orlando Olvera. Aiding Olvera and other Brownsville school officials in their crusade is the Texas attorney general’s office, which is preparing yet another appeal in the case. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has heard the case, but a rehearing may be requested. If that is denied, the attorney general can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The attorney general is not obliged to appeal the findings that the Texas statute is unconstitutional, but presumably is doing so either because he sees continued resistance as politically advantageous or wants to send a message to the federal government that Texas will fight to the bitter end to win some sort of federal assistance for educating the children of undocumented workers. Giving the attorney general the benefit of the doubt that he is above furthering his personal political career at the expense of poor Mexican students, is the other reason sufficient to support the expense and eventual benefit of such a course of legal action? There are better ways of sending Washington a message, if that is the purpose of the appeal. In the United States Constitution, they’re called senators and representatives. The reason for local resistance to admitting these children to the classroom is more understandable. It is based on dollars. The Brownsville school district is in a pocket of poverty astride the migrant stream. Board president Olvera points out that much of the industry in eastern Cameron County whose taxes could help improve education for the district’s 27,000 students is situated closer to the gulf, around Port Isabel, for commercial and transportation reasons. But when the offspring of migrating Mexicans and Central Americans cross the border at Matamoros in search of jobs, even Brownsville represents an improved standard of living, and the schools they see in that city represent an educational link to the English language and the Yankee dollar. Fittingly, the border is where this story of legislative ludicrousness began. During the 1975 session, bills were prepared to prohibit illegal alien children from attending public schools. The bills languished, but similar language was incorporated into an amendment to the school finance bill on the motion of former Rep. Ruben Torres, D-Port Isabel. Rep. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, said he thinks he and most of the other Hispanic members even voted for the amendment with their eyes shut. “I was asleep on that one,” he concedes. “And I don’t think any of us \(Mexican-American Sleepily, then, Texas became the only state then or since to pass such a law, even though other border states like Arizona and California have also experienced a growing flood of illegal aliens in recent years. In September 1977, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund challenged the statute in a class action suit on behalf of 16 Hispanic children living in Tyler, where the public schools had imposed a tuition on students without valid citizenship or alien papers. The federal courts in Texas ruled in favor of the students in this and 16 other suits brought against the same law and, this fall, school districts were told to admit the illegal alien children as public students. Apparently as ammunition for the state’s continuing strategy to appeal the rulings, the attorney general’s office had estimated that as many as 120,000 illegal alien children would swarm into the schools. School district officials adopted worried looks, saying their already beleaguered teachers would never be able to cope with this avalanche. As of Oct. 1, the last reporting date available through the Texas Education Agency, a grand total of 10,387 illegal alien children had turned themselves in to their neighborhood principal. The new brown students were a rivulet, not a river. But even that figure was bloated. At a hearing on a stay sought by the Brownsville district, the school attendance officer said the Brownsville schools had encountered 557 illegal alien students in the first month of school, prior to being permitted a temporary injunction. Volunteers from Texas Rural Legal Aid, however, checked the district’s list of students and found many were actually American citizens. Some, to be sure, had parents who were not citizens. But that never kept any Irish, Italian or Polish chilren out of school. And some were the children of parents from Mexico who had become U.S. citizens themselves but, either through ignorance or laxity, had not yet obtained citizenship papers for their children. Of the 557, Linda Yanez of TRLA estimated that no more than 170 were actually illegal aliens. A few days before Thanksgiving, their last 30-day grace period over, the Brownsville schools resumed enrolling all children. The first morning, 13 undocumented scholars showed up. As cold weather in the north puts a seasonal vise on migratory work, more will undoubtedly return to the warm streets of Brownsville and seek a few months of classroom instruction. Other large districts around the state will also see a continued rise in illegal alien enrollment, as word of the renewed permission policy becomes more widely known. The state comptroller’s office estimates that perhaps 50,000 illegal alien children will eventually enroll this year to be absorbed into the 2.6 million statewide student body. Torres, a former school superintendent in Port Isabel, said while he still firmly opposes an open-door policy, his real intention in fostering the court-condemned amendment to the state’s education law was to “draw attention” to the financial needs of the poor border districts most affected by the children of the swelling migrant stream. The proper and sane way to accommodate them and other refugee children with desks, teachers and books is with additional state aid to needy districts, such as that envisioned in a bill pre-filed for the 1981 session by Rep. Hector Uribe, D-Brownsville, Torres’ successor. An aide said Uribe’s bill would see that a school district received another $600 per year for every foreign-born student, regardless of the country of origin, if foreign-born comprise at THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3