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Should Health Care and Public Education Is Granted to Illegal Immigrants?

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Illegal immigration has been a complicated issue for the United States for the last century and a half. With the days of Ellis Island steamboats and open-door policies behind us, we are struggling to define the rights of those people who are coming to our country illegally. A multitude of issues arise from this situation: should illegal immigrants be able to work? Should they receive health care? Should they be educated in the public school system? Should they receive welfare benefits such as food stamps and unemployment checks? These, and many more questions are perplexing our government and its constituents.

I have chosen to study two of these issues: health care and education. I will begin by discussing the Pleyer v. Doe case, California ‘s Proposition 187, and the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 as examples of case studies in this field. Background The history of immigration restriction began in 1849 when the Supreme Court ruled that immigration was  ‚Nsforeign commerce ‚N? and could be regulated by Congress {Daniels, 12}. The first major ruling on the restriction of public education to illegal immigrants didn ‘t come until well over a century later.

The Pleyer v. Doe case, which went before the Supreme Court in 1982, began from a revision to a 1975 Texas education law that let the state withhold funds from local school districts for educating children who were illegal residents in the United States. The main question was whether this law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 1 There was also the question of whether education was a universal right, which couldn ‘t be denied. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that states couldn ‘t deny the right to public education on

illegal immigrants, solely based on their parent ‘s legal status because it violated the equal protection clause. While this ruling succeeded in providing education to illegal immigrants, it also paved the way for future anti-illegal immigrant rights. Chief Justice Warren Burger ‘s dissent stated: By definition, illegal aliens have no right whatever to be here, and the state may reasonably, and constitutionally, elect not to provide them with governmental service at the expense of those who are lawfully within the state {Powell, 92}.

This dissent would lead to the denial of welfare programs to illegal immigrants in the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. {Powell, 92} Twelve years after the Pleyer v. Doe case, anti-illegal immigration rights activists in California introduced an amendment called Proposition 187. This bill would create a system that would verify the legal status of those seeking public education, nonemergency medical care, and social services and deny those who were illegally in the country {Rosenblum, 367}. Even though the proposition passed with 59% of the vote, it never went into effect.

In 1995, U. S. district judge Mariana Pfaelzer ruled that the ban on elementary and high school education for illegal immigrants was unconstitutional because it violated the 1982 Pleyer v. Doe case. Two years later, Pfaelzer concluded that Proposition 187 was  ‚Nsnot constitutional on its face ‚N? citing that it was not the job of the state to regulate immigration: California is powerless to enact its own legislation scheme to regulate immigration. It is likewise powerless to enact its own legislative scheme to regulate alien access to public benefits {Rosenblum 70}

In the midst of all this legislation, Congress was passing the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. This bill, which looks a lot like Proposition 187 with all the kinks worked out, sought to cut government spending by cutting the cost of social services to illegal immigrants. As a strategic political move to gain Republican support, President Clinton signed the bill into existence. It denied welfare such as food stamps and Medicaid to those without the correct papers. While a 1998 amendment restored food stamp benefits to more than a quarter of those who had them pre-1996, Medicaid is still currently being denied to illegal immigrants.

Analysis Health Care To address the question of health care, we can first look at an article titled  ‚NsIllegal immigrants, health care, and social responsibility ‚N? by James Dwyer. In this article, Dwyer refutes the ideals of the two polarized sides in the illegal immigrant health care debate. He believes that  ‚Nsnationalists, ‚N? who argue that immigrants deserve no benefits because they are here illegally, are wrong because they focus too narrowly on the legal rules of formal citizenship. He also believes that  ‚Nshumanists, who believe that access to health care is a universal right, are mistaken in that their beliefs too broadly define what we owe to our fellow man {Dwyer, 34}. Dwyer believes that conceptualizing the issue in terms of professional ethics, or human rights does not provide sufficient depth to cover the issue. Instead, he believes that the issue must be viewed in terms of social justice {Dwyer, 41}. He uses the marginalization of immigrants in the United States as an excuse for their illegality. He believes the Athenian polis was an example of a perfect median.

He says that instead of controlling immigration, they controlled citizenship and thus enjoyed the diversity of many foreigners, while keeping a strong nucleus of their own countrymen. While I do agree that this debate is not just a black and white issue, I believe that human rights do play a huge role. Dismissing them as too  ‚Nspolar ‚N? is just an easy way to introduce his idea of social responsibility in the debate. Not to be too polar, but many of those who favor health care for illegal immigrants root their opinions in the belief of universal health care.

Article 25a of the Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control {United Nations, 1948}. So what does this mean for the United States?

Some say that this means that illegal immigrants have the right to health care and that is something the government cannot take away. Others say that those who are here illegally give up their rights and do not fall under this umbrella of protection. Currently, hospitals are required to provide illegal immigrants with emergency medical care, but beyond that, it is up to the discretion of health service employees. Many physicians oppose amendments such as Proposition 187, because they feel it would cause them to violate their Hippocratic oath.

Physicians also realize that an amendment like 187 would cause illegal immigrants to completely avoid the medical community until the last possible minute. Without these preventive measures, the general health would suffer and medical costs would skyrocket because treatment is almost always more expensive than prevention. While it seems like a no-brainer to want to treat a patient in need, these procedures come at a very high price. The cost of reimbursed medical care in border-states is astounding.

California taxpayers paid $1.4 billion dollars in 2002 to make up for these costs {Green, 230}. This is money that could be used to treat American citizens. So the question becomes who is more important: citizens or illegal immigrants? While John Stewart Mill would say they are equal because no one human being is worth more than another, this view is not echoed by much of the United States. This is not surprising in a country where individual success is put above the welfare of society. But can you really blame someone for putting his or her neighbor ahead of a stranger who lives down the street?

Especially if that stranger down the street doesn ‘t pay taxes. 2 And if this stranger isn ‘t paying taxes that will go towards the x-ray machine in the hospital, that does not make him entitled to receive the proper care. If this is the case, then things get even more complicated. Is someone who pays a million dollars in taxes more entitled to x-rays than someone who is paying one thousand dollars? They are paying for hundreds of people to use the machine, while the other guy isn ‘t even holding up his end of the bargain.

The more in depth to this situation we go, the more flawed this argument becomes. Yes, independent states are established to take care of their citizens and provide them with basic needs laid out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but this is not always the case. The United States continues to say we are living in a global society, but does not want to share its profits with other countries. Apparently people are not as important in this new global society as goods. In this view, people are used as means to an end that is usually great wealth.

This is not the Kantian society that Immanuel would like it to be. Education It just so happens that Article 26a of the UN Declaration of Human Rights reads as follows: Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. {United Nations, 1948} Again, the document does not say that only citizens have this right, it says everyone.

The most compelling argument for public education for illegal immigrants is the fact that most of the recipients are children. It was not their choice to come to this country and they shouldn ‘t be punished for it. To deny them public education is to rob them of any future they may have. Children without schooling are more susceptible to drug use, more likely to get pregnant, and more likely to end up in jail {Hayes, 48}. In addition to this rationale, the idea of every child receiving an education is one that could only benefit our society. Loucas Petronicolos and William S.

New believe:  ‚¦all individuals ‘ interest in meaningful public education is fundamental, in a constitutional sense, so educational policies must aim at providing equal educational opportunity and access for everyone. The constitutional fitness of any policy that legitimates the unequal distribution of educational opportunity should be looked upon with skepticism {375}. This is the reason that both the Pleyer v. Doe case and resistance to California ‘s Proposition 187 used the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to defend their argument.

The authors of this article realize that equal education leads to greater equality, which leads to a richer society. Richer, not only in the sense of a more just society with a more educated populous, but also richer in the sense of less poverty. As I mentioned earlier, children who attend school are much more likely to go on and be successful than those who do not. The more kids afraid to go to school, the more money our society must spend in order to take care of them when they get older. So naturally, it makes sense to want to educate as many kids as we can.

There is a great article in the Tucson Weekly about illegal immigrant children sneaking across the border every morning to attend school in Arizona with an amazing quotation ‚Ns ‘I think that all children should have the right to a good education, no matter where they live, ‘ Mercy says.  ‚? These kids are our future, on both sides of the border ‘” {Vanderpool, 1}. While this article contains this well thought out, beatifically articulated quotation, it also has a statement that is pretty frightening in my opinion. Kelt Cooper, the Superintendent for the Nogales Unified School District said:

They’re easy to spot, ‘ he says. They’re usually wearing uniforms–red shirts and khaki pants. I don’t intend to be the (U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service), but I don’t think it’s our moral obligation to educate students who don’t live in my district. ‘ This is an educator spouting off lines that he doesn ‘t want to educate the students at his school. Now I understand that he is facing budget restraints, but to say it isn ‘t his moral obligation to educate students from outside his district just seems disheartening to me.

In all fairness, the education system in much of the United States is in complete disarray. Jack Martin describes the current situation: With states straining under gaping budget shortfalls, public schools throughout the country are facing some of the most significant decreases in state education funding in decades. In some states, drastic cuts mean lay-offs for teachers, larger class sizes, fewer textbooks, and eliminating sports, language programs, and after-school activities. Nearly two-thirds of the states have cut back or proposed reductions in support for childcare and early childhood programs.

Some are even shortening the school week from five days to four {Martin, 1}. This is causing many people to go into panic mode. The scary thing is, that the numbers back up the facts. It is estimated that the total K-12 expenditure for illegal immigrants is a startling $12 billion dollar. After factoring in providing public education for the children of illegal immigrants, the today rises exponentially to almost $30 billion. If education spending was cut for illegal immigrants in California alone, schools could hire an additional 31,000 teachers or buy over 2. 8 million computers.

So the question again becomes, are citizens more important than illegal immigrants? One might argue that illegal immigrants should just return to their country where they can be provided education by their own government. But what if this education is sub par, or in some cases even non-existent? Do we really have the right to deny that person an education. This is not beneficial to us as citizens in a global society, or for that matter, citizens of the United States. We are the most powerful country in the world, yet we are sitting back and building walls around our borders.

We have all the power in the world, yet we only use it to benefit ourselves. We have the highest GDP in the world, yet our quality of life is at the bottom of the developed countries. What does this have to do with the rights of illegal immigrations in the fields of health care and education? Nothing. In conclusion, the future of immigration law could be decided within the next couple of years. Whether or not illegal immigrants will be able to receive health care or public education will be determined very shortly. It will be interesting to see what unfolds in the near future.

Works Cited

Daniels, Roger, and Otis L. Graham. Debating American Immigration, 1882-Present. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.

Dwyer, James. “Illegal Immigrants, Health Care, and Social Responsibility.” The Hastings Center Report 34, no. 1 (2004).

Green, Alison, and Jack Martin. “Uncontrolled Immigration and the U.S. Health Care System.” Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies 29, no. 2 (2004): 25-241.

Hayes, Helene. U.S. Immigration Policy and the Undocumented: Furtive Laws, Futive Lives. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001.

Martin, Jack. “Breaking the Piggy Bank: How Illegal Immigration Is Sending Schools into the Red.” Washington D.C.: Federation for American Immigration Reform, 2005.

Powell, John. Immigration. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2007.

Rosenblum, Karen E. “Rights at Risk: California’s Proposition 187.” In Illegal Immigration in America: A Reference Handbook, ed. David W. Haines and Karen E. Rosenblum. Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations, 10 Dec 1948.

Vanderpool, Tim. “Crossing the Line: Nogales School Officials Are Trying to Crack Down on Mexican Kids Illegally Crossing the Border to Go to School.” Tucson Weekly (2004).


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