How low will Terry Branstad go in his efforts to score political points on the immigration issue? Before the primary election, he exaggerated how much undocumented immigrants cost the state budget and said he wouldn’t offer their children in-state college tuition. Earlier this month, he called for new enforcement that would copy Arizona’s “show your papers” approach but (magic pony style) wouldn’t leave Iowa taxpayers footing the bill for immigrants jailed.
Now Branstad is grandstanding against the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows children of undocumented immigrants to attend public schools. Speaking on Jan Mickelson’s conservative talk radio show on July 27, the Republican nominee for governor said, “I believe that we need to see that [ruling] overturned.”
Branstad is taking a fairly extreme position here. The Plyler v. Doe decision, which struck down a Texas statute denying public education to children of undocumented immigrants, has been settled law for nearly 30 years. (Not that I’d put it past the current activist right-wing Supreme Court majority to overturn longstanding precedent.)
I haven’t seen any Branstad campaign press release declaring that he wants to take public education away from illegal immigrants, so maybe he was cynically throwing a bone to Mickelson’s listening audience. Governor Chet Culver’s campaign manager Donn Stanley pointed out that during the 16 years Branstad was governor after Plyler v Doe took effect, “He never had the state Department of Education oppose that ruling.”
But what an indictment of Branstad’s “family values” if he was speaking sincerely on Mickelson’s show. He would tell children no, we’re not going to educate you, because your parents did something bad. Stanley told the Des Moines Register, “It also just seems that having these kids in school instead of on the street would be better for society […] Speaking generally, punishing children for what their parents do illegally is not a value the governor has.”
Branstad should answer two follow-up questions. First, if elected governor, would he try to pass a law denying education benefits to children of undocumented immigrants? Such a law would be challenged in court, perhaps creating an opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the issue.
Second, would Branstad take any other steps to restrict education opportunities for immigrant children? Republican attorney general candidate Brenna Findley recently told Mickelson that while Plyler v Doe applies to Iowa, she favored trying to “work with the Department of Education” to find ways our state could address this issue. Branstad talks up Findley everywhere he campaigns; would he work with her toward this end? Incidentally, even Findley didn’t go so far as to say that Plyler v Doe was wrongly decided and should be overturned.
UPDATE: Forgot to mention this part of the Des Moines Register article:
“Gov. Branstad believes that people who are here illegally should not receive taxpayer-funded benefits because it drains our budget and is an added expense to taxpayers,” Branstad campaign spokesman Tim Albrecht said. “We’re talking about those children here illegally. We’re not talking about those born here.”
I haven’t seen any statistics on the estimated number of children in Iowa who were brought to this country illegally, as opposed to native-born Iowa children of undocumented immigrants. Even if Branstad got his wish and the Supreme Court revised its thinking on this issue, it would be difficult to implement the kind of distinction Albrecht is talking about. Theoretically, you could have school district denying enrollment to older siblings while educating younger siblings who were born in Iowa.