Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal is asking the federal government to pay the costs associated with educating unaccompanied immigrant minors here in what Latino activists say is brazen political posturing.
At a press conference, Huppenthal released a letter he penned to Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, asking for the funding.
"Having to pay for the tremendous educational costs associated with the federal government's failure to secure the border is not new to Arizona taxpayers or Arizona schools," Huppenthal writes in the letter. "What is new, though, and what is unprecedented, is the federal government's actions to relocate at least hundreds of unaccompanied minors, mostly school-age teenagers, who have illegally crossed the border into other states, to Arizona's cities and towns, where they will attend Arizona schools."
Huppenthal says Arizona shouldn't have to pay for the costs associated with educating such minors. So far, there are 202 known students brought to Arizona under these circumstances, though at the press conference Huppenthal said there might be up to 1,000 more already in-state. The cost to the state of the 202 known students has been approximately $1,026,564.
In his letter to Duncan, Huppenthal demands more information on how many children the federal government plans to bus into Arizona.
Huppenthal also expresses concern about rumors that President Obama may soon issue an executive order giving some form of amnesty to illegal immigrants. At the press conference yesterday, Huppenthal stressed that it's important for the Obama administration to make sure it has thought through any such action. "We just know it could have enormous impacts. Has the analysis been done?" he asked.
Huppenthal says a lack of information on the number of students being bused to Arizona has already prevented the state from preparing properly.
But Latino activists say the comments by Huppenthal, who's running hard for reelection in Tuesday's Republican primary, have an ulterior motive. The United States Supreme Court already has determined that states have no choice on whether to educate all children within their borders, no matter what their immigration status.
"It's political pandering," says Lydia Guzman, National Chair of the League of United Latin American Citizens' Immigration Comittee. "He's trying to get the extremist vote right before the primaries."
But Huppenthal disputes the charge. He claims his office received multiple media requests asking him to address this issue, and he said yesterday's press conference was simply a way to address such concerns all at once.
Guzman doubts this. She says his comments were "like making an announcement that the sky is blue. What he should really be concerned with is educating all kids."
In June, Huppenthal publicly apologized after being outed for comments he wrote anonymously on conservative blogs, including one calling for a ban on Spanish.
Yesterday, a reporter asked Huppenthal outright if he is racist against Latinos. Huppenthal responded by naming several Latino friends in his social circle growing up. "That's my background," he said. "I'm immersed."
Huppenthal said some people have the wrong image of him. "My true image is I'm dedicated to our low-income, high poverty neighborhoods," he said.
Notably, Huppenthal didn't say "no" in response to the question.
"If you're not a racist, you might as well say 'No,'" Guzman says. "If it barks like a dog, it's probably a dog."
Huppenthal sent his request to Duncan yesterday, and says he will press for an immediate response. If Huppenthal wins next week's primary, he will move on to the general election to be held on November 4.
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