A 13-year-old speaks truth to fear

The letter below, published in the Austin American-Statesman and written by a 13-year-old classmate of my daughter, Caroline, pretty well sums up the waste and futility of building President Trump’s wall along the southern border.

The writer, Joaquin Bartelli, represents part of a future that no amount of wall-building is going to stop or even slow down. Trump tweets bigotry and fear, while Joaquin tells it like it is.

Our country has a lot going for it. But it will be a better place in which to live for everybody when Trump is removed from the White House and young people like Joaquin are old enough to vote. Joaquin is a U.S. citizen, the son of U.S. citizens, and like millions of other citizens he is proud of his Mexican heritage. Here is his letter:

Border wall a bad idea for these three reasons

I am 13 years old and I am Mexican. I think that the border wall is a bad idea because it’d be expensive, ineffective and its message is so negative. The wall’s cost would be in the billions, which is too much when it could be going to better causes, like feeding starving children or helping the homeless.

On top of that it will be ineffective at keeping people out. People would still be able to climb over it, dig tunnels or otherwise find a way past it.

Most importantly, the wall sends the hurtful message that “Mexicans are not welcome here.” I can’t help but take it personally. The president may want to keep Mexicans from coming over the border, but he did not realize that message is being sent to Mexicans already here. Does he really want me to leave?

Joaquin Bartelli, Austin

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An enlightened society values education for all children. Does the governor understand that?

As Gov. Greg Abbott pointed out in a controversial tweet, five liberals on the U.S. Supreme ruled (in 1982) that Texas (as well as every other state) had to provide and fund public education for the children of undocumented immigrants. But in his haste to pander to the racism, fear and bigotry that is growing in this state and country, he didn’t tell the whole story.

The case, Plyler v. Doe, was brought on behalf of a group of students from Mexico after the Tyler Independent School District adopted a policy requiring undocumented students to pay tuition. Tyler ISD was acting under a 1975 Texas law allowing districts to deny admission to undocumented immigrants.

The five high court justices in the majority based their ruling on the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says in part, “No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This is known as the Equal Protection Clause. The majority found that the Tyler district had no rational basis to deny children a public education based on their immigration status, considering the harm that such a policy would inflict on the children and the entire society. The five justices wrote: “By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.” They also determined that punishing children for their parents’ actions in bringing them illegally into the United States “does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.”

If you accept Abbott’s tweet as the definitive word on this issue, you may be led to think that the four other Supreme Court justices at the time believed that states should be allowed to ban undocumented immigrants from attending public schools. If so, you would be mistaken.

As the American Immigration Council points out in its analysis of the case, the dissenting justices – including such historic non-liberals as Warren Burger and William Rehnquist – pointed out that it “is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children – including [unauthorized immigrants] – of an elementary education,” in part because “the long-range costs of excluding any children from the public schools may well outweigh the costs of educating them.”

Not to mention the fact that many immigrants, when educated, are more productive and may pay more taxes than some native-born Americans.

The Supreme Court minority would have allowed school districts to charge undocumented students tuition. Despite the difference over tuition, though, the entire nine-member Supreme Court recognized the critical importance of making a public education available to all children, regardless of immigration status.

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Texas officials need to confront the schoolyard bully, the one in the White House

Gov. Greg Abbott is not a racist, but the same statement cannot be made with any degree of certainty or credibility about the president of the United States, and therein lies a dilemma for the governor of Texas and for many of his elected Republican colleagues. But it is past time for them to gut up, put partisan politics aside and demand the president stop the inflammatory trash talk.

Any schoolyard bully who talked like the president would have been sent to detention a long time ago.

Following the shootings in El Paso, Abbott acknowledged the alleged gunman was intent on murdering Hispanics, and he condemned what he called “racist domestic terrorism.” Abbott obviously deplores white supremacy. And you can argue until you are beet red in the race over whether President Trump’s provocative tweets and comments, including a declaration that there was an “invasion” threatening the southern border, had anything to do with motivating a hateful young man to drive hundreds of miles and target Hispanics in a shooting spree at the El Paso Walmart.

But you deny reality if you deny the fact that Trump, intentionally or not, has promoted racism and emboldened white supremacists from the day he announced his campaign for the White House by decrying Mexican immigrants as drug-dealers and rapists and vowing to erect a border wall.

Racism – plus cruelty and government ineptness – resulted in thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents and put in cages along the border.

It came to a head in Charlottesville, Va., when white supremacists emerged from the shadows to take to the streets in a violent demonstration that resulted in one death. It came to a head again in El Paso with the deaths of 22 people who went to Walmart at the wrong time.

And sometimes it is more subtle. Over the weekend, the Bloomberg news outlet reported that Stephen Miller, the president’s chief immigrant-basher, had tried to find ways a couple of years ago to block children who were undocumented immigrants from enrolling in public school.

The effort was abandoned after Miller and Trump were reminded (if they had ever known) that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision in a Texas case years ago, had guaranteed admission to public schools for all immigrant children who are U.S. residents.

I am glad to see Abbott and other Republican leaders in Texas attack racism and white supremacy, even though it should be a no-brainer. Abbott has appointed a special commission to recommend strategies for combating hate and promoting healing in the wake of the El Paso tragedy. And Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whose mother was born in Mexico, wrote an oped in the Atlantic condemning racism – but not Trump’s rhetoric — right after the shootings.

They refuse to call out Trump over his race-baiting remarks because they don’t want to undermine his reelection chances in Texas or their own future reelections for that matter, even though U.S. Sen. John Cornyn will be the only top elected Republican on the ballot with the president next year. Border security and immigration are major concerns of many Texas voters, even though Trump’s brand of immigrant-bashing has nothing to do with real border security.

In truth, Abbott and his colleagues are practicing political expediency, a former of political cowardice, at a time when racism, intolerance and fear are much greater threats to our country than is immigration.

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Big-money interests and their legislative allies are meeting privately in Austin this week to decide your future

The Texas Legislature is not in session now, but far-reaching legislation affecting future funding of public schools, teacher pay, environmental quality and a host of other issues, including your health insurance, may be vetted and drafted in downtown Austin this week.

This won’t happen at the state Capitol. Your future will be discussed instead in private meeting rooms several blocks away at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, and you aren’t invited to be there. Disregarding your best interests in your absence will be a very select group of well-monied participants intent of transferring more of your hard-earned income to their corporate profits.

The occasion is the annual summer meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), one of the most influential anti-consumer, anti-public education, anti-environment groups that most people have never heard of. It is a partnership of private, corporate representatives and elected officials from around the country who write and then work to influence legislative enactment of so-called “model bills” to increase the profits of the corporations that helped create the legislation.

The public interest be damned, and that includes the quality of your neighborhood schools, your health care, your paycheck or retirement or anything else important to the quality of life for you and your family.

ALEC and its member corporations often pay the travel expenses of like-minded legislators who are invited to attend its meetings and participate in drafting the model legislation. These lawmakers, nearly all Republicans, then return to their home states and try to pass laws through their respective legislatures, usually without acknowledging that ALEC had anything to do with the legislation.

ALEC, unfortunately, has found a lot of cooperation from the leadership that has dominated Texas’ state government in recent years. At least 58 Texas legislators have ties to the group, according to research by the Common Cause Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy. Gov. Greg Abbott has spoken at ALEC conferences, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former Gov. Rick Perry are ALEC alumni.

Through its Texas member and contributor, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, ALEC has been an active supporter of efforts to divert Texas tax dollars to private school vouchers. Thanks to TSTA and other public school advocates, those efforts so far have failed. But groups like ALEC will continue to lobby for school privatization in various forms as long as there is a profit to be made from taxpayers.

ALEC was instrumental in the enactment in Texas and many other states of laws requiring voters to have photo IDs in order to cast ballots, part of a voter intimidation effort targeting Americans of color.

ALEC also has been behind efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act, which gives millions of Americans access to health care, including people with pre-existing medical conditions. And it has supported legislation to weaken air and water quality in order to increase profits for the energy industry.

ALEC is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charity, which allows ALEC’s corporate members and funders to deduct their contributions to ALEC on their corporate tax returns. The deductions amount to a taxpayer-funded subsidy for ALEC’s lobbying, even though ALEC insists it is not a lobbying group. It spends a lot of time and money influencing state legislators, though, just not for the benefit of most of those lawmakers’ constituents.

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