Sunday, January 06, 2008

11. Shooting themselves in the foot...

Kansas passed a great law a few years ago that would allow students who came over without documentation with their parents as children to get in-state tuition at a Kansas Regents university or community college if (1) they attended a KS high school for at least 3 years and (2) they maintained a B grade average. Now, this doesn't actually give them any scholarship or grant money, they just have to pay in-state tuition like anybody else would who meets those criteria. (Actually, you only have to live in KS a year before enrolling to become eligible for in-state tuition, so this law actually creates a higher bar for undocumented students to become eligible.)

The anti-immigrant types have been after this law for years. Kris Kobach, while running for Congress on an anti-immigrant platform against Dennis Moore in 2004, was hired by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (an anti-immigrant group with the not-just-a-little-ironic acronym "FAIR") to sue the state on behalf of US Citizen out-of-state students. Of course, first they had to find some students willing to be named in the lawsuit, since there really weren't any complaining to begin with. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed due to "lack of standing," which essentially means that a plaintiff can't maintain a lawsuit if they are not personally being harmed. (For example, I can't sue Donald Rumsfeld for the war in Iraq just because I'm a taxpayer annoyed at having my tax dollars being spent overseas, etc.)

Moore beat Kobach handily, winning Johnson County outright for the first time in his congressional career. Despite this obvious rebuke on both the legal and political levels, the anti-immigrant types still flock to Kobach and about a year ago that part of the conservative wing of the Kansas GOP got him elected as State party chair.

Of course, as a Democrat, I'm just tickled. Such Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot, and they will be limping from it for more than a generation to come. Latinos are the fastest growing electoral demographic in the nation, and whatever gains Bush made among them in his two elections have completely evaporated as looney anti-immigrant types like Kobach and Tom Tancredo continue to blast away against them. What these foolish anti-immigrant Republicans don't realize is that there are thousands of mixed-status families in Kansas and America. Along with citizen classmates and friends, we have a generation of new voters who will only remember that it was Republicans who were trying to hurt and destroy their fathers, mothers, friends, and cousins, etc.

As a Kansan and an American, however, such policies are really sad and frightening. I know a lot of young clients who graduate from high school who have spent their whole lives here in Kansas City but can't get a drivers license. Without the promise of something better for their future, what motive does a young undocumented high school student have to learn English, stay in school, work hard and achieve to the best of their ability? Those who do believe that there is a possible benefit for buying into the system and playing by the rules end up being positive and productive members of society, and many find a way to legalize eventually. Those who don't believe they can benefit by buying into the system usually give up on following the rules. Sadly, without any hope of a better tomorrow, that's when I get to meet them as a criminal defense attorney. If young people become a problem for our society, that hurts all of us.

Of course, if you base your policies on the idea that all these new immigrants are lawbreakers and evildoers, then then it comes as no surprise that your prophesy becomes self-fulfilling. However, those of us who actually know some Latinos and recent immigrants know that if given the opportunity, our young people are capable of doing amazing and positive things for our community and our nation. Since they were not adults when they crossed with their parents, they should not be punished for their parents'decisions. Nor should the rest of society be punished by polcies which thwart and squander their potential.

The Kansas In-State Tuition law, and the comparable DREAM Act that was proposed at the federal level, hurts nobody and benefits all of us--unless, of course, you see a new generation of young Latino voters as a threat. I do not, nor should our politicians, nor the American people.

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