22nd April 21:48
Mexican students crossing border to attend school
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Last modified Wednesday, May 25, 2005 10:22 PM PDT
Probe finds Mexican students crossing border to attend school
By: ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN - Associated Press
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Students living in Mexico have been regularly crossing
the border to attend school in a remote southern Arizona community, a
misuse of taxpayer funds, the state's top education official said
State Schools Superintendent Tom Horne said an investigator he sent to
Lukeville, a border community, videotaped students walking across the
border to a bus stop, then taking school buses to the community of Ajo,
some 35 miles away.
"There are 85 students who ride the bus from a bus stop in Lukeville,"
Horne said. "The entire population of Lukeville is 60. So it's likely
that most of the students reside in Mexico."
In 2004, there were 466 pre-kindergarten students through high school
seniors in Ajo's three schools.
A Lukeville trailer park employee told the investigator that utility
receipts issued as proof of residence were provided by the trailer
park, and not by a real utility, Horne said. The investigator found
there were no homes at the trailer park addresses listed on the utility
Susan Segal, chief counsel for education in the attorney general's
office, said Arizona statutes don't define residency or say what may be
accepted as proof of residency.
"Citizenship is not the issue; it's whether they are residents of the
United States," she said. Federal law requires schools to educate
students whether or not their parents are in Arizona legally, Horne
said. But there is a difference between those who are residents of
Arizona illegally and those who aren't residents.
"If they live in Arizona and their parents are not here legally, we
must educate them," he said. "But if they actually live in Mexico, then
there's no provision for students to attend school in Arizona, or if
they do, they must pay tuition."
Horne said he undertook the investigation after stories appeared in The
Arizona Republic and after the Arizona attorney general's office said
it would not investigate because there was no allegation of a crime.
"The allegation is that taxpayer funds were being misused," said Horne,
noting the state spends an average of about $5,000 per student.
Activists for tighter border restrictions frequently cite the expense
of educating illegal immigrants as one of the reasons that the border
needs to be tightened. The issue has attracted a great deal of
attention in Arizona in recent months as state lawmakers and voters
have backed efforts to stem the tide that has made the state the
busiest illegal entry point on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Horne said he doesn't expect the Ajo Unified School District to do
anything about students enrolled in classes for the current school
year, which ends Thursday.
"We expect them to investigate students who attempt to enroll for the
next school year," he said.
Calls to Ajo Superintendent Robert Dooley were not returned
Linda Arzoumanian, Pima County school superintendent, said school
districts are prohibited from asking about citizenship.
"We have rent receipts and utility receipts in this office and guardian
papers signed by a judge," she said. "That's as far as you can go by
federal law. You can't ask if they're citizens."
If a family has guardianship of a child, then the family address allows
a student to attend school in Arizona, Arzoumanian said. But there have
been situations where students from Mexico were turned away because
people "were asking for guardianship for educational reasons, and that
isn't allowed," she added.
Horne said he knew of no situations similar to the one in Ajo in other
Arizona border school districts.
The Yuma and Nogales school districts reportedly have acted to ensure
that they don't face problems with students living in Mexico but his
investigator has not checked on them, he said.
"I feel that I can only investigate if I have a credible allegation of
abuse," he said.
Instances of Mexican children crossing the border to attend U.S.
schools have also occurred in New Mexico, Texas and California.
On the Net:
Arizona Department of Education: http://www.ade.state.az.us/
Tax Dollars Stolen