The Hidden Costs of Educating Illegal Immigrants

Since the start of the year, upwards of 66,000 unaccompanied children from South America and Mexico have flooded the southern border of the United States, nearly double that of the previous year. Rumors of unilateral amnesty by President Obama motivated the unaccompanied children’s to make the long journey to the United States. As the new school year rolls in, at least 50,000 of these minors are expected to enter our public schools.

In the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, the court ruled that it was unlawful for a state to deny a child admittance to a public school regardless of immigration status, or charge illegal immigrants additional tuition. Because the states pay the majority of the costs of education, this places an extensive burden on the schools. Many states, including Texas, withhold funding to schools for illegal immigrants, as funding is allotted on a per-student basis. 

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimated that it will cost approximately $761 million to educate these new students. The majority of that financial burden will fall on the individual states. The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) reported that Americans already spend approximately $39 billion per year on educating illegal immigrants. A number of places, including Arizona and Miami-Dade County in Florida, have demanded that the federal government pay the full cost since the federal government has been slow to deal with the immigration crisis. Cash-strapped states like Arizona and Florida already spend among the lowest per student and are feeling the financial pressures of the influx of illegal immigrants. Additionally, they believe it is unjust to force taxpayers to pay for students who have been deposited in the state by the federal government. Arizona’s state superintendent, John Huppenthal, wrote in a letter addressed to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “It is unreasonable to ask Arizona schools and Arizona taxpayers to pay for these expenses. These unaccompanied minors in question did not illegally cross in Arizona, but rather they were bussed into our state by the federal government.” 

The majority of these illegal immigrants do not speak English, and some do not even speak Spanish. The Hall County School District in Georgia has reported several new students who speak only Mayan, a tongue so rare outside of rural South American villages few interpreters are available for schools to use. Additionally, a large number of these children have never been to school, and are often all but illiterate. These students require extra attention from teachers in programs such as Title-1 or English as a second language educational programs and they require additional bilingual educators to be hired, or even interpreters for some of the more obscure languages. A 2006 study found that it costs schools an additional 30% to educate non-English speakers. 

President Obama has done little to enforce immigration laws, and has threatened to use executive action to grant unilateral amnesty to millions of illegals in the United States. Speaker of the House John Boehner, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions have criticized President Obama for his lack of concern for present immigration laws. Senator Ted Cruz has introduced legislation in the Senate to “stop President Obama’s amnesty, reform the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and empower governors to utilize the National Guard to address this specific crisis at federal expense, including authority to arrest violators of federal immigration, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and terrorism laws.”

Speaker Boehner has said that members of the House are planning for immigration reform in 2015. However, until President Obama actually enforces the laws that are currently on the books, the House will not begin to discuss immigration reform. “The president is going to have to demonstrate that he can be trusted to implement a law the way it was passed,” Speaker Boehner said. “I would hope that the president would continue to follow the law, and begin to take steps that would better secure our border. It would create an environment where you could do immigration reform in a responsible way next year.”