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Raising Arizona: Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies Program Under Attack January 9, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Education, Law, Ethics & Society, Racial Discrimination, U.S. Constitution.
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Dueling perceptions of the reality of Tucson’s ethnic studies’ programs have caused the state legislature to pass a bill directed at Tucson’s ethnic studies program.  No, wait a moment…Did I say ethnic studies? Seems that the African-American and Native-American studies program are safe, but the Mexican-American program is so controversial that it resulted in its own “private” legislation.

The bill, known as HB2281, was actually passed last fall, but just became effective.  Tom Horne, Arizona’s Superintendent for Schools who has just become  Arizona’s Attorney General, is a proponent of the law that “authorizes the state superintendent to stop any ethnic studies classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” In fact, Horne has conceded that Tucson’s program is the target of this law. His successor, John Huppenthal, supports Horne’s findings against Tucson’s Mexican-American Program.

Shortly after this law was passed last fall, a group of Tucson’s teachers filed suit to have the law overturned, alleging constitutional violations including First Amendment free speech claims and a lack of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.  While Horne and Huppenthal have alleged that the Mexican-American program teaches anti-American precepts such as Ben Franklin was a racist and promotes undesirable “ethnic chauvinism”, both student and teacher testimonials applaud the inclusion of history from a “Mexican-American” perspective and assert that the program “has been effective in reducing dropout rates among Latino students, as well as discipline problems, poor attendance and failure rates.”

The controversy in general and the lawsuit specifically could serve as another great opportunity for a sociological, legal and cultural debate on both free speech and the educational system in a diverse democratic setting except for one serious constraint.  HB2281 comes equipped with some serious financial teeth; if Tucson does not dismantle its program within 60 days then the state can devastate the entire Tucson educational system by imposing a 15 million dollar penalty upon Tucson. The lawsuit requests an injunction to prevent the law from being imposed prior to the lawsuit being resolve and apparently the Tucson School Board has already submitted a letter to the state detailing the current program’s compliance with the law.

Arizona’s battle is one worth watching as it represents cultural and educational issues that impact our children and the future of our country.  Besides….after seeing the copy cat immigration legislation popping up in campaigns last November, it won’t be surprising if other states’ legislatures start debating and attempting to legislate ethnic studies programs in our own backyards.


U.S. v Arizona: A National Identity Crisis? June 20, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Immigration, Law, Ethics & Society.
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Arizona’s new immigration law, SB1070, was in the news again this week when Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, while touring South America, responded to concerns about the law by indicating that the Justice Department is going to file suit against Arizona.   The Arizona law empowers police officers to require individuals to produce their immigration papers when those individuals are lawfully stopped by the police for other reasons.   The law has ignited a firestorm of controversy as it  implicitly requires anyone in Arizona who may “appear” to be there illegally to carry  proof of residency or citizenship at all times.

The proponents of the law believe that it will be another way to stem the tide of illegal immigration which disproportionately impacts their state.  The opponents are concerned about the application of law which they believe invites ethnic profiling and places an unequal  burden on a select group of legal residents and citizens.  (In Florida, there is much concern that attempts to bring the law here will create chaos in cities like Miami in which there is a huge, diverse legal population who would have to carry passports or be arrested.)

Secretary of State Clinton’s comments reflect another issue: the Constitution of the United States provides that Congress is responsible for enacting and enforcing immigration laws. (See Article I Section 8) Additionally, the Constitution provides that when there is conflict between state and Federal laws, Federal laws prevail.  (See Article VI) So, therein lies the foundation for the Federal government to object to Arizona’s law.

These are some of the basic legal issues underlying the emotional overlay of the Arizona law.  The Arizona law has served to focus attention on a complicated and controversial set of issues revolving around immigration in our country.  Depending upon which source is consulted, there is an estimated 12 – 20 million illegal immigrants in our country.  We have not devoted the resources to secure our borders or enforce our immigration laws to the fullest extent possible.  Many people enter our country legally and then over stay their visas with little repercussions.  So, there is ongoing debate as to what to do about the illegal people who reside here and how to prevent a growing problem.  The states most impacted are frustrated with the Federal government.  The Federal government has attempted and failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform in recent years, but remains the Constitutional overseer and needs to maintain uniformity in the application of the law throughout our country.

So, what is the solution?  National identity cards for all citizens?  Amnesty for those already here?  Militarization of our borders?  The questions are fairly easy to identify……What do you think are the answers?

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