A recent Los Angeles Times story reported on Belmont High School where 25
percent of the students came to California as unaccompanied Central American
minors. Many do not speak Spanish, let alone English. Their native languages
are Quiché, Chui and Mam. For the older teenagers, learning English has
proven more difficult than it has for younger students.

The story outlined the challenges that students and their teachers face. The
teenagers are poor, many have never been in a classroom before, and some are
homeless. Others have years-long gaps in schooling, and the American
education system confuses them. They may be living with relatives they’ve
never met or strangers. As for the teachers, they’re helping their students
overcome trauma from their travels north, and with abandonment issues if
their parents preceded them to the United States.

And while the principal remained upbeat – at least publicly – one comment
she made to the Times reporter is telling. From the story: the illegal
immigrants’ presence in the classrooms “has forced the school to reimagine
its role in its students’ lives.” The principal also said that “This
[teaching non-English, non-Spanish speaking Central Americans] is going to
take a rethinking of education in general. Then she asked: “Sure, they get
into school, but what’s next? How do we support them?”

Here are my takeaways from the story. First, while it’s noble to do the best
possible job for the illegal immigrant students, schools are neither
intended to be nor can they be parental substitutes.

Second, the presence of thousands of illegal immigrant children not only at
Belmont but throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District is unfair to
the already overburdened California taxpayers who spend more than $10
billion annually to fund the state’s 1.4 million non-English speakers,
nearly 25 percent of the total enrollment. Despite overall spending for
California’s public schools at an astronomical $76.6 billion yearly,
Education Week gives the state a D grade for academic achievement. Teacher
time spent on the illegal immigrants means attention is diverted away from
citizen children who need all the help they can get.

Third, no matter how many resources are expended in an effort to bring
immigrant children up to speed, the results are disappointing. According to
the Congressional Budget Office, adult immigrants between the ages of 25 and
64 are three times as likely as native-born to have dropped out of high
school, 29 percent versus 8 percent. Accordingly, lower educational
achievement among immigrants translates into less earning power than
natives, and therefore results in greater welfare reliance.

Fourth and finally, whether it’s the Syrian conflict or an alleged Central
American crisis, and experts say violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El
Salvador is no more intense than in previous decades, the U.S. shouldn’t be
obliged to resolve every global emergency. President Obama is fond of saying
that turning away Middle Eastern refugees or Central American minors “is not
who we are.” But the time is long overdue to help struggling American
students and their parents. Obama has forgotten about the 1.2 million
homeless American K-12 kids, and the 50 million adults who live below the
poverty line, a sorry statement on his administration’s commitment to help
immigrants, even as citizens fall further behind.

A Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow, Joe can
be reached at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org and
Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

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