Immigration issue returns in school, health-care bills

2012-01-10T00:00:00Z 2012-01-10T10:52:09Z Immigration issue returns in school, health-care billsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 10, 2012 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - The legislative testimony, the press conference and the boycotts over SB 1070 are pretty much all history. And its architect is gone, the victim of a recall.

All that remains now is to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court will let Arizona begin enforcing key sections of the tough new immigration law.

But that is not halting efforts in the new session that started Monday to adopt even more laws aimed at the issue.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, is pushing two measures in particular. And while neither will directly reduce illegal immigration, he sees both as steps to help reduce the financial burden on Arizona taxpayers.

One would require parents to provide some proof when enrolling a child in public school that the youngster is a citizen or here legally.

Technically, nothing in the legislation would preclude a child from being enrolled, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled all residents are entitled to public education regardless of legal status. Instead, Smith said, it's designed so the state can get a handle on the costs.

More than just getting a number is at issue.

In a 1982 ruling, the high court overturned a Texas law denying state aid to educate any child not in this country legally. That law also gave local districts the right - but not the obligation - to refuse to enroll those students, for whom they would not be reimbursed.

Justice William Brennan, writing the decision, noted Texas officials argued they were justified in excluding illegal immigrants because of the "special burden" they placed on the state's ability to provide a high-quality education.

But he said the record, at least in that case, "in no way supports the claim that the exclusion of undocumented children is likely to improve the overall quality of education in the state."

Proponents of getting the data contend those numbers would give Arizona the chance to make that argument and get the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

That, however, may be difficult.

Brennan said a case might be made for denying benefits to people who purposely break the law. But he said the Texas law penalized children "who are present in this country through no fault of their own."

Smith said that, if nothing else, the law itself might save money as some parents opt not to enroll their children in school.

"If you're the parent that's illegal, and the child is illegal, and they're afraid to go, well, guess what?" he said. "That's what we call the price of breaking the law."

He acknowledged the same thing could happen in the case where the child was born in this country - and is a U.S. citizen entitled to an education under any scenario - but the parent is an illegal immigrant.

Smith said the same is true of his other plan, which would require hospitals to ask patients to prove legal presence in this country: It could deter some people from seeking care.

While illegal immigrants are ineligible for Medicaid and other programs, there is a requirement to fund emergency care for those who meet other financial requirements regardless of legal status. Hospitals also end up with some uncompensated care, with costs often passed on to paying patients and their insurance companies.

"Maybe the system is working," Smith explained. "Maybe we can deter the amount of money that is hemorrhaging out every year in free services for people that don't deserve it."

Both measures failed to get Senate approval last year. But Smith remains convinced his colleagues can be persuaded to go along.

Another measure that also faltered is unlikely to resurface: having the state deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said he still believes Arizona needs to pass such a law to force the U.S. Supreme Court to address the issue squarely of whether people are citizens solely by virtue of the location of their birth.

He said that was never the intent of Congress when it approved the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the wake of the Civil War.

But Gould said that the same people who voted against the controversial measure last year are still in the Senate. And he said he has no reason to believe any will be persuaded to reconsider.

On StarNet: Find more on SB 1070, border deaths, deportations and other immigration-related news at azstarnet.com/border

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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