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School Board Moves Closer to Mexico Suit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Anaheim Union High School Board of Trustees voted Thursday to have its attorney draw up a resolution billing Mexico for the education of students from that country who are not legal residents.

At a meeting where public sentiment ran strongly in favor of the proposal, board members also expressed support for the largely symbolic resolution but postponed voting until the idea receives legal scrutiny.

The plan, submitted by board President Harald Martin, proposed to bill Mexico $50 million for 10 years of back payments, and another $10 million yearly for an indefinite period.

Martin said he proposed the resolution out of frustration with the state’s inability to implement Proposition 187, which called for illegal immigrants to be removed from schools.

Representatives from anti-immigration groups and conservative associations from across the county spoke in support of his idea. Others vehemently opposed it.

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Benny Hernandez, president of the Anaheim City School District, a separate school system that oversees elementary education, told Martin and the trustees that while he used to laugh off Martin’s proposals targeting illegal immigrants, now he cannot.

“This time I’m angry and even sad for your discriminating message,” he said.

And some questioned how the board arrived at $50 million.

School districts do not keep information on students’ citizenship status, and there is no sure way of knowing how many illegal residents from Mexico attend Anaheim schools.

Although several speakers were applauded when they called the idea racist, most others said that such students create a heavy fiscal burden on taxpayers.

Trustee Katherine Smith said no animosity toward Mexican children is intended. But she said school overcrowding is the single most important issue in the district.

“I believe this issue is purely an economic reason and nothing else,” she said. “I believe the spirit of this is right but we need to get our facts straight.”

Although Hernandez took the trustees to task at the meeting, several other Latino advocates said they were reluctant even to dignify the proposal with a comment.

With sighs of exasperation, two Latino community activists reached Friday declined to comment or to have their names be connected with the proposal. It is an old story, they said: A population of middle-aged, middle-class white people fear the growing number of Latinos in Orange County.

Meliton Lopez, former superintendent of the Anaheim City School District and a member of Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino advocacy group, said the high school board is wasting everyone’s time.

“They should be focusing on creating an environment in which wonderful things can happen in the classroom, an environment that is risk free and where children do not feel afraid or diminished.”

Before the meeting Thursday, Martin said he knew the school district could successfully bill Mexico for $50 million. His hope, however, is that support for the idea snowballs and that Mexico ultimately faces a lawsuit backed by the all school districts, as well as the state and federal governments.


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