Schools Experiencing Years-Long Border Surge

The influx of tens of thousands of Central Americans across the southern border has seized the attention of the American people. Gallup recently found immigration to be the top policy concern of those polled. An Economist/YouGov poll reported that 77 percent of the public supported returning the illegal aliens to their home countries.

Cities and towns where the illegal crossers are being resettled are struggling to handle the influx. Judith Flanagan Kennedy, the mayor of Lynn, Mass., recently expressed her frustration: “It’s gotten to the point where the school system is overwhelmed, our Health Department is overwhelmed, the city’s budget is being sustainably [sic] altered in order to accommodate all of these admissions in the School Department.”

It takes courage to mention the costs of immigration. Predictably, the mayor has been roundly criticized for her candor. Honesty usually comes from people who must bear the costs, like those whose budgets have been broken. Unlike the federal government, the city of Lynn cannot print money and run seemingly endless deficits. Conversely, the further removed you are from the costs the more likely you are to overlook them. The federal government, its lobbyists, and the national media rarely see an accurate picture of immigration.

The dramatic nature of the border surge has driven many to voice their concerns. But it is critical to understand that these concerns are not exclusive to the current crisis. They are inextricably linked to mass immigration, which has been a federal government program for more than three decades. The millions of newcomers who have been admitted — both legal and illegal — exert heavy fiscal and social costs, the bulk of which are borne at the state and local level.

The Washington Post recently detailed how these costs are being incurred in D.C.-area public schools. It was a surprise to see the June article make it through their editing process, albeit in a local section on education, since the paper has long since abandoned objectivity in support of open borders. The piece, by T. Rees Shapiro, focuses on the transformation that is underway in Fairfax County, Va. It provides a devastating picture of poverty, language obstacles, achievement disparities, overcrowding, and budget deficits.

Shapiro observes that more than one-third of the county’s kindergartners qualified for subsidized meals this past year and that many of the schools have converted their supply closets to miniature food banks. Close to 40 percent of the class of 2026 requires special English-language instruction. At an elementary school in Springfield, 78 percent of the student body speaks Spanish at home. A third-year kindergarten teacher at the school says she has never had an English speaker in her class. The staff must speak Spanish to the students and their families and the principal claims that most of the parents are not even literate in their native tongue.

With these challenges, it is obvious that the new students are going to struggle. Teachers are spending an increasing amount of time on remedial education and are alarmed by the widening achievement gap of a school system that is considered one of the best in the nation. Additional attention is difficult to provide to struggling students since enrollment has grown by more than 22,000 since 2004. The surge in new pupils is not likely to subside anytime soon, although school officials say the rise in enrollment is unsustainable at the current funding level. Shapiro notes that the cost for English-language instruction has increased by more than $18 million in the last five years. Many parents who have the means are sending their children to private schools.

The statements made by school officials in the article show the dichotomy that defines the immigration issue. After acknowledging all of the costs of this transformation, School Superintendent Karen Garza asserts, “We view these demographic shifts and our growing diversity as a strength that we will continue to celebrate,” despite failing to mention a single benefit.

Ted Velkoff, chairman of the school board budget committee, attributes the rise in enrollment to an enforcement policy enacted by neighboring Prince William County in 2008 that is believed to have driven illegal-alien families into Fairfax. Velkoff bemoans that “the Fairfax County taxpayer has to take a disproportionate part of this bill.” He then calls Prince William intolerant for trying to enforce U.S. law. “In Fairfax, our feeling is we welcome everybody here with open arms. I’m happy to be a magnet for people who want to live in a tolerant society.”

These statements are caricatures, paeans to the prevailing multicultural dogma made by frightened bureaucrats. The notion that schools can educate an unlimited number of immigrant students has been discredited by everyone who has ever examined the issue. Two fairly recent academic reports, “Learning in a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society” and “The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies”, find that immigrant students are developing at a dismally low level. Most of the schools they attend are defined by segregation, violence, poverty, and low expectations. One of the authors even asserts that if the situation is not reversed, the very democracy of the United States is in peril.

Unfortunately the statements made by the Fairfax County officials represent the depth at which most of our leaders address immigration. They simply praise it as an unqualified good while insulating themselves and their families from its effects. Of course there are benefits to welcoming newcomers into the country. But, by definition, there must be limits. Shapiro captured this understanding in a quote from Edelmira Moran, a concerned mother who came here from Mexico 10 years ago and wants her child to attend a better school: “In Hybla Valley [Elementary School], it’s 90 percent Hispanic. What the problem is, I think, is the style of life is all the same.”

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