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High School District Mulls Suing Mexico

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a show of fiscal frustration, trustees of an Anaheim school district debated into the night Thursday whether to send Mexico a bill for $50 million--the amount the district believes it is owed for 10 years of educating Mexican immigrant children who are not legal U.S. residents.

The resolution before the board of Anaheim Union High School District also called for the city to seek $10 million a year from Mexico to cover the continuing costs of educating illegal immigrants in public schools.

“We’re providing a service just like anybody else, and why should the American taxpayer have to pay for this?” asked school board member Harald Martin, who introduced the proposal.

The debate raised allegations that both the resolution and Martin are racist.

“In my opinion, you, California and Anaheim, you’re in big debt with Mexico,” Andreas Gonzalez said. “I’m saddened to feel the hostility in this room, but you folks chose us to have as neighbors. We didn’t choose you.”

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Martin said before the meeting that he is not a racist, just fed up.

Mostly he is exasperated because Proposition 187, which called for illegal immigrants to be removed from public schools, has not been implemented. In addition, Gov. Gray Davis’ decision last week not to bar illegal immigrant children from California schools spurred him to action, Martin said.

The governor, who opposed Proposition 187 when it was being considered for adoption by the voters, has said he will turn to mediation to resolve most issues in a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups immediately after its passage. Barring children from school, however, is not a step he is willing to consider.

Martin strongly disagrees.

“Mexico should be responsible for the education of its own citizens,” he said.

That feeling was echoed by many speakers at Thursday’s school board meeting. Some suggested that Mexico is not the only country that should be billed.

“This resolution singles out one country, and we do not want to appear to be racist, so we should send a bill to every country that has illegal aliens in the schools,” said Chad Morgan, who identified himself as Orange County chair of Young Americans for Freedom.

The expense borne by the district keeps it from achieving other educational goals, Martin said. For example, Anaheim could easily achieve class sizes of 20 students to one teacher if all students who are not in the United States legally were either required to leave the schools or had their expenses paid by Mexico, he said.

Neither Martin nor the district, however, knows how many students are in the country illegally because public schools do not inquire about a child’s residency status.

Martin, who is also an Anaheim police officer, said he is sure there are thousands such students in the district. Of people arrested in Anaheim, 37% are illegal immigrants, he said, a figure that indicates a large population of undocumented residents in the city.

Many in the school system argue that the district spends no extra money to educate illegal immigrants. Schools receive funding according to a state formula based on their average daily attendance, regardless of the students’ immigration status.

Since his proposal to bill Mexico, Martin has received both countywide support and censure. It is not the first time his ideas have brought allegations of callousness and racism.

In the early 1990s, when Martin was an officer assigned to Anaheim’s tough Jeffrey Lynne neighborhood, his early meetings with Latino leaders quickly degenerated into hostile, opposing camps, he said.

Martin said his aim was to rid the area of crime and help residents take control of their neighborhood. Latino advocacy groups complained to the Police Department that he was a racist, Martin recalled.

Undaunted, he speaks out against what he considers cultural partisanship and says “diversity is divisive.”

If the resolution should pass, the next step would be for the district’s lawyers to draw up a bill and deliver it to the Mexican consulate, Martin said, a process that could be completed within two weeks.

He knows it is virtually pointless to seek money from Mexico but hopes an attorney will be inspired to take up the cause and sue that country’s government.

He likened the case to the states’ successful effort to seek reimbursement from tobacco companies for health care costs borne for years by taxpayers. In a settlement last year, tobacco companies agreed to pay $200 billion to 46 states over the next 25 years.

“I know the country of Mexico is not going to come up and give me a check for $50 million,” Martin said. “Maybe a tobacco attorney will begin to calculate how much money school districts and local entities are owed out of this and will see the financial reward of going after the country of Mexico.”


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