This group wants to bar children in the U.S. illegally from attending some schools

American Children First founder Joseph Turner speaking at a 2006 San Bernardino City Council meeting.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

While President Trump awaits the authorization and funds to construct his promised 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border wall, an organization has proposed a local initiative that would keep immigrants who are in the country illegally out of some Inland Empire schools.

Voters in the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District — a district split by San Bernardino and Riverside counties — may soon be able to decide if undocumented immigrants should be prohibited from attending K-12 public schools, and whether American-born children of immigrants here illegally should be charged “nonresident” tuition.

Joseph Turner, a former San Bernardino resident now living in Torrance, filed a notice of intent this week with the San Bernardino County registrar of voters to circulate a petition for the proposed ballot measure.


“We can no longer subjugate the education and future of our children,” Turner wrote in the filing on behalf of his nonprofit group, American Children First. “We will no longer take care of those who have broken our laws and seek to prosper at the expense of our children.”

Turner founded American Children First last month. The group advocates heavily for “anti-illegal immigration” reform among other issues, including free trade and education.

Turner has long pushed for reform of immigration policies toward those here illegally, most recently founding a similar immigration nonprofit in 2004, Save Our State, and authoring the “City of San Bernardino Illegal Immigration Relief Act” in 2006.

That measure would have barred landlords from renting to immigrants in the country illegally and prohibited business owners from receiving permits if they employed them. A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge determined Turner had not collected enough signatures to qualify the measure for the city ballot.

Now, Turner said he’s been “reinvigorated” by Trump and plans to bring his initiatives to a national level by first targeting a small school district.

“Trump did very well [in the Inland Empire] and I’m hoping the audience will be very receptive” to his proposal, Turner said.


The school district serves nearly 10,000 students in the cities of Yucaipa and Calimesa, and has more than 32,000 registered voters. Turner would need about 3,200 signatures for his initiative to qualify for the ballot.

In the 2016 presidential election, 42% of San Bernardino County voters selected Trump, while 44% of Riverside County voters did.

Turner’s latest proposed initiative shares components of California Proposition 187, which left those here in the country illegally ineligible for public benefits. Although voters approved it in 1994, legal challenges after its passing led to a federal district court declaring the initiative unconstitutional.

Niels Frenzen, an expert in immigration and refugee law at USC, said the implications of a 1982 Supreme Court Decision, Plyler v. Doe, played a major part in Proposition 187’s fate and would also weigh heavy on Turner’s proposed measure should voters pass it. Plyler v. Doe struck down a Texas statute that restricted free K-12 education to citizens, as well as an attempt to impose an annual fee on students in the country illegally.

“It’s not surprising, of course, that there are individuals who feel this way, but given this well established legal principle [of Plyler v. Doe] that’s of constitutional significance, it would really be irresponsible for a politician, conservative or not, to call for noncompliance,” Frenzen said.

On both his organization’s website and in the letter to the registrar, Turner takes umbrage with the past decision, claiming that it undermines the quality of education for the children of American taxpayers.

“I think we have a lot of fake Americans in Sacramento that say they are for educating all children but what that really means is they’re for compromising the education that American citizens receive so we can pay for illegal aliens,” Turner said.

Cali Binks, superintendent of the Yucaipa-Mesa district, said Turner has not reached out to her or members of the school board.

She said the district does not plan to change how it treats students in the country illegally while the proposed resolution makes its way through the process, and she encourages all students to continue attending classes.

“We have a very tight-knit community and we care for everybody,” Binks said.

Twitter: @JeffLanda


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