Complaining that it is an unconstitutional measure that would turn school "employees into inquisitors and adversaries of the students," the governing board of the county's largest school district has adopted a resolution condemning Proposition 187, the November ballot initiative that would bar illegal immigrant children from public schools.
After an emotional debate Tuesday evening, the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Education narrowly approved the resolution on a 3-2 vote, with Trustees Sal Mendoza, Audrey Yamagata-Noji and Robert W. Balen supporting it, and Rosemarie Avila and Tom Chaffee in opposition.
Proposition 187 would make illegal immigrant children ineligible for enrollment in public schools, and require school officials to report any students they suspect of being in the country illegally to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The measure would also bar non-emergency medical aid and social services to all illegal immigrants.
The school board majority blasted the measure as immoral, mean-spirited, and racist. They said the legions of children turned out of schools by the measure would become a permanent, uneducated underclass susceptible to involvement in gangs, drugs and other criminal behavior.
But Chaffee and Avila argued that immigrants must go through proper legal channels before being afforded the rights and privileges the United States offers legal residents, and that the country simply cannot accommodate the current levels of illegal immigration.
The resolution states that the "children of our community should not be used as pawns in debates regarding immigration policy. . . . The proposal would impermissibly invade the privacy interests of this district, and turn our employees into inquisitors and adversaries of the students they are employed to serve."
The resolution also noted that the initiative is in conflict with a 1982 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that illegal immigrant children have the same right of access as U.S. citizens to elementary and secondary public education.
Yamagata-Noji said the initiative invites racist enforcement.
"Would we be looking at blond, blue-eyed children who might have come here illegally from Canada? Or are we going to look at little Juanito or Juanita? Would we be suspicious of people because of what they look like, or what kind of accent they have, or what their parents look like?" she asked.
Balen called the proposition "evil, mean-spirited and very unjust to children."
"There is a tendency in economic downturns to look for scapegoats, and I think that's what's happened here," she said. "It's the same thing that happened in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s. We're asking our teachers to become brownshirts and turn in children and their parents."
He said that if the initiative happened to become law, he would refuse on principle to cooperate with anyone who attempted to question his own family members about their immigration status.
Avila spoke up in favor of the proposition, describing it as a "well-reasoned, moral and viable" way to deal with the problem of illegal immigration.
She compared the United States to a lifeboat that can accommodate only 10 people at one time. Although compassion demands that people try to save others, "if you put 40 people on a lifeboat (designed for 10), it will sink and no one will be saved," she said.
Chaffee defended the ballot initiative and criticized the school board resolution, saying "it is wrong for this board to tell people how to vote."
But Yamagata-Noji and Mendoza noted that their ancestors, despite being legal residents, had either been thrown into detention camps built for Japanese immigrants during World War II or deported to Mexico earlier this century because of widespread anti-immigrant hysteria.
The two trustees said they opposed Proposition 187 because it provokes racist feelings similar to those that swept the country in earlier times, and does nothing to address the real issues of illegal immigration.
Mendoza agreed that "there's got to be reform, but it's being done in the wrong manner."