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3838663.8ee69d5c.560_0Here’s a fascinating piece in Sunday’s Washington Post that details the ongoing struggle for U.S. public schools to handle the surge in immigrant students. 

Of course, public schools may not refuse any student, regardless of citizenship, but the surge has resulted in middling investments in public schools, despite the increasing workload, many public education advocates would argue.

From Sunday’s Post:

Many of the new arrivals don’t speak much English and are behind academically. They often come with scars, having fled desperate poverty or violence or both. Many endured difficult journeys, sometimes leaving their families behind or rejoining parents in the United States after years of separation. And U.S. schools, already strapped for resources, are trying to provide special services, including ­English-language instruction and mental-health care.

There were more than 630,000 immigrant students nationwide in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the latest federal education data available, which defines immigrants as children born outside the country and enrolled in U.S. schools for less than three years. That figure has grown since immigration across the southern border surged two years ago: Between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2015, federal officials released more than 95,000 unaccompanied minors into U.S. communities, virtually all of them entitled to enroll in public school.

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News

May_Day_Immigration_March_LA37The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review President Obama’s overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, putting to rest a challenge to its constitutionality launched more than a year ago by 26 states.

As described by Adam Liptak of the New York Times, the president’s plan would “allow millions of immigrants who are the parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents to apply for a program sparing them from deportation and providing them work permits. The program was called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.”

In February, a federal district court judge in Texas  blocked implementation of the plan pending resolution of the states’ challenge, and a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans later affirmed that injunction.

Adds Liptak:

If the Supreme Court upholds Mr. Obama’s actions, the White House has vowed to move quickly to set up the DAPA program and begin enrolling immigrants before his successor takes over early next year. Democratic presidential candidates have said they will continue the program, but most of the Republicans in the race have vowed to dismantle it and redouble immigration enforcement.

The high court’s order taking the case for review, entered in U.S. v. Texas, is here.

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Commentary

If we thought that 2015 was a bad year for immigrants living in North Carolina and elsewhere in the U.S., the start of 2016 has not fared much better. Those seeking refuge from persecution, arguably the most vulnerable types of people coming to our country, continue to be scapegoated as threats of terrorism by local elected officials; most recently Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews. Additionally, the Obama administration announced a series of raids to start the new year targeting Central American families who entered the U.S. during the recent surge escaping dire violence in their home countries.

The raids, whether targeted or not, instill fear in the minds of immigrants living in the U.S. even if documented. There are thousands of immigrants in NC who live in mixed-status families or who have U.S. citizen children and spouses. Living with the constant fear of losing a parent, a spouse, or a loved one is extraordinarily difficult. Children have to attend school with the looming concern that when they get home, their parent may be gone.

Somehow, the political discourse inappropriately distinguished the deservingness of Syrian refugees from those coming from Central America. On one hand, the administration announced that the U.S. would take 10,000 Syrian refugees due to the dangerous conditions in Syria despite the protest of state elected officials, including Gov. Pat McCrory . Yet, the recent raids are reportedly targeting individuals who sought to escape grave danger in Central America. There is a reason why San Pedro Sula in Honduras, for example, has been named the murder capital of the world. This dichotomy is inexplicable and should lead policy makers to a serious discussion on how our country treats refugees. While the international community and these countries learn how to address their spiraling violence, the U.S. needs a system that affords due process and fair shot at asylum for those who seek refuge within our borders.

The concerns voiced by people like Sheriff Andrews are both unnecessary and unfounded. Yet, as wrong as these statements are, they have guided the political discourse both at the local and federal level in a pivotal electoral campaign season. We cannot let individuals escaping deadly violence and grave threats in their home countries become a proverbial political punching bag. Instead, we, as a country, must understand that the parents and children the Obama administration is deporting are the embodiment of the huddled masses yearning to be free.

Commentary

McCrory_budget305-aGovernor Pat McCrory expressed a tough stance regarding immigration enforcement during a recent segment of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor (see Rob Schofield’s post below). Unfortunately, the Governor’s lack of understanding about how immigration enforcement actually works further muddies the waters for law enforcement in North Carolina, is confusing in light of his previous statements and sends precisely the wrong message at this important time in history.

To be clear, McCrory was talking to O’Reilly about the infamous HB 318, which prohibits local governments from adopting policies that bar or discourage their police agencies from gathering information about a person’s immigration status. Gov. McCrory stated there were five such jurisdictions in the state without mentioning, or possibly even knowing, that the policies in those cities were already rendered largely obsolete by the activation of the federal government’s “Secure Communities” program throughout the state, which required the sharing of fingerprints between the local law enforcement agency and immigration enforcement. The so-called sanctuary policies that existed before passage of HB 318 did little to protect those arrested (due to operation of Secure Communities), but they did a lot to foster trust with victims and witnesses of crime.

McCrory also claimed that the law will “unleash the handcuffs” from police officers who want to enforce the law. This is wrong. McCrory’s own interpretation of the new law released just last month stated that it “does not require law enforcement to collect” information about immigration status. What’s more, as Chief Lopez of the Durham Police Department has explained with respect to his own city, this law could actually hurt policing. McCrory’s mixed signals about the law’s execution seem likely to abet this process by helping to erode the trust needed between immigrant communities and the police.

In taking a strong stance against immigration, McCrory also sought to highlight the need for “teamwork” in public safety. But in any team, people play different positions. Just ask Carolina Panthers defensive star Luke Kuechly if he could or should try to take Cam Newton’s place at quarterback. It would make no more sense than it would for the SBI to start issuing parking citations.

The federal government’s message has always been consistent: immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility and such enforcement takes into consideration government resources, national security, and international relations. McCrory voiced a grudging understanding of the limited role of the state when it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis, yet he seems to ignore this obvious dichotomy when it comes to already immigrants living in our state.

Ultimately, McCrory’s various statements regarding North Carolina’s new law leave us with at least three negative takeaways:

First, by sending mixed signals, he make it difficult for people to decipher what the law does.

Second, he clearly signed a law that hurts law enforcement rather than helping it.

Third and most troubling, his rhetoric abandons who we are as a nation, straying from our moral duty to help those escaping persecution and poverty. Immigrants, regardless of status, contribute to the fabric of our communities and the state. History will judge the strength and character of our nation by how we treat those in need, and in time, McCrory’s abandonment of our core values will be deemed an epic fail.

[Editor’s note: Raul Pinto is a staff attorney in the Immigrant and Refugee Rights project at the North Carolina Justice Center.]

Commentary

In case you missed it yesterday, Taylor Batten of the Charlotte Observer authored a damning article about Gov. McCrory’s sudden reversal of course on Syrian refugees that took place on — what a surprise!– the same day several other Republican governors decided to stoke public fears about immigrants and attack the Obama administration.

As Batten points out, the McCrory administration was quite calm about the matter last Friday in response to a question about the refugees:

“’Prior to being given refugee status, an extensive security screening is conducted on each individual’ by the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies, McCrory’s office replied.”

Seventy-two hours later, however, the tune had changed:

“At a press conference in Charlotte on Monday, however, McCrory said the state has little knowledge of what those background checks entail and that they have “vulnerabilities.” Because of that, McCrory said, Syrian refugees are not welcome in this state.

McCrory joins at least eight other GOP governors who on Sunday and Monday said they would not willingly accept refugees until the federal government tightened its vetting to ensure terrorists are not admitted.

‘I am now requesting that the president and the federal government cease sending refugees from Syria to North Carolina until we are thoroughly satisfied with the effectiveness of the federal background checks and security checks on such refugees entering our country,’ McCrory said at a press conference in Charlotte.”

The bottom line: McCrory’s flip flop clearly smacks of partisan political fear mongering. As Batten points out, if the administration has genuine and specific concerns about the federal oversight of refugees, then it ought to speak up and articulate them right away. At yesterday’s press conference, however, McCrory couldn’t do anything other than offer vague criticisms that sounded suspiciously as if they had been designed to appeal to nativists in his conservative base.

The truth of the matter is that people don’t get to enter the United States as “refugees” until they’ve been thoroughly vetted by federal immigration officials. McCrory knows this. And the notion that the the feds should somehow stop accepting genuine refugees and/or set up some kind of system in which state law enforcement officials would monitor these poor souls (as McCrory implied) is as mean-spirited as it is wasteful and just plain silly.

Let’s hope caring and thinking North Carolinians of all political stripes speak up forcefully and often in the days ahead to make clear that their Governor does not speak for them on this core issue of justice and human rights.

Click here to read Batten’s entire article.