This year, more than 50,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the southern border into the U.S. If you're wondering where they've gone, you may need to look no further than the classrooms of your local public school.
On May 8, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to local and state school officials around the country making it clear that minors who are in the country without proper documents must be allowed to enroll in schools. If they live in a particular school district, they are supposed to go schools in that district. However, even if they can't prove they live in the district - say, no parent or guardian shows up with them at the school or they don't have valid identification - school officials have been directed to treat them as homeless students, meaning they are to be allowed to go to that school without providing a home address.
This is not just another executive order by the Obama administration. It's federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that children, regardless of whether they are here legally or not, must have access to public elementary and secondary education.
Currently, the U.S. spends approximately $12,000 per year to educate each child in public school. And the influx of children who are in the country illegally further increases those costs. That's because more regular teachers have to be hired, and - because many students don't speak English - more bilingual teachers and resources have to be brought in as well.
According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, as of 2009, taxpayers have spent over $440 million on English instruction classes for children - some of whom are here legally, some not - whose parents are in the U.S. illegally. Houston is one of several cities where a local school district has created schools specifically for such children - and all these children are eligible for free or reduced lunches under the federal school lunch program.
Needless to say, this puts a huge burden on local districts and states - many of which are already struggling to provide a good education for the children who live there legally. As Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin puts it: "Already one in four Oklahoma children struggle(s) with hunger. One in four will drop out of high school before graduating. It is wrong for the president to ask Oklahomans to divert their attention and limited resources away from our own children."
Congressional staffers in Washington who closely follow this issue have told me that, while the flow of border crossings has slowed over the past month, they expect it to pick up again in early fall as the weather cools, making the 1,000-plus mile journey from Central America less dangerous. That means we will likely see more children coming this fall.
And, if President Barack Obama follows through on his vow to issue an executive order granting amnesty to millions more immigrants already in the country illegally, that will only encourage even more people of all ages to risk getting across the border.
Obama's proposal wouldn't be a popular move. Opinion surveys find opposition to illegal immigration is growing. And on this specific issue, a recent Rasmussen poll found that 53 percent of likely U.S. voters said immigrants who are in the country illegally should not be allowed to attend public schools.
Of course, the answer here is not to show up at schools and protest the children. The answer is to send a message to public officials who are all for enforcing laws that reward immigrants who are in the U.S. without proper documents (like the law requiring they be allowed to go to public schools), but have little use for securing our borders and enforcing the laws that would have sent those who enter illegally back home.
That message can be sent now and through Election Day, simply by asking every politician running for governor and the U.S. House and Senate where they stand on border security and illegal immigration.
- A native of Texarkana, Wood is a senior contributor to The Daily Signal.
Originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle