Monday, December 3, 2007

They'll need to go to college just to learn to spell "Huckabee"

It is an unintentional irony that having made Chuck Norris a key player in my last post, I'm now going to bring up Norris's favorite presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee:

As the article details, former Arkansas governor is embroiled in a controversy that has him being grilled by conservatives who heretofore have frequently been quite complimentary. Of course, the reason I'm addressing the matter here is that the Constitution is involved--but you might not know this from reading about the matter.

The furor is over Huckabee's support for giving scholarships to the children of illegal immigrants. As the Washington Post article reports:

"Huckabee has been criticized by Mitt Romney and others in the GOP presidential race for supporting legislation in Arkansas that would have made all youngsters who graduate from state high schools eligible to compete for college scholarships, no matter what the legal status of their parents. "

Then we are treated to Huckabee defending his position by comparing himself to Ronald Reagan, apparently because he wanted to compare himself to Ronald Reagan. (As someone born and raised in Chicago and now living in the South, I must say that just once I'd like to see a Southern politician compare himself to the other famous Illinois Republican. You know, the one who fought a war against the South.)

Huckabee tried again with George Stephanopoulos a couple of days later, and he didn't do particularly well there, either:

The commentary on the hotair site fusses:

"What Huckabee keeps touting as a merit scholarship program ended up being a simple in-state tuition break. Why let illegals who reside in Arkansas get a break that citizens who reside in Alabama don’t? Because, according to Huck, attending school in Arkansas — for as little as three years, potentially, let’s not forget — makes for a more valid claim on public resources than American citizenship plus 13 years in a neighboring state’s school system does."

Left out of this discussion is that arguably, Governor Huckabee not only can insure that Arkansas provides sound educational opportunity for children of illegal immigrants, but that he must do so according to the Constitution and the principle laid down by the Supreme Court in one of its most lauded decision of the twentieth century.

The relevant text is a portion of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified just after it was determined that Huckabee today would be running for President of the whole United States rather than merely the Confederate States of America:

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The emphasis, of course, is mine, and it is intended to point out that while according to the Fourteenth Amendment a state could in theory Constitutionally deny privileges or immunities to anyone not a U.S. citizen, it may not deny due process or equal protection to anybody, citizen or no, because even if you were born in Mexico and slipped across the Rio Grande in the dead of night, you are still a person, for Pete's sake.

So, if there is any strong reason to believe that public education is a matter of "equal protection" or "due process" then the obvious conclusion would be that children of illegal immigrants, being persons, are entitled to whatever benefits anybody in Arkansas gets, whether they were born in Little Rock or Tijuana. Is there such a reason?

Absolutely. Check out this line from the conclusory paragraph of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), where the Warren Court rightly and famously ended school segregation:

"We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for who the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment." (Brown at 495, my emphasis).

Earlier in the decision Chief Justice Warren expounded on the importance of schools; his words there also deserve quoting:

"Today, education is perhaps the most important fuctinon of state and local governments... It is the very foundation of good citizenship... In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to suceed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." (Brown at 493, my emphasis).

At this point, someone might protest that there are two differences between Brown and the Huckabee flap. First, the kids in Brown were children of parents born in America. Second, Brown dealt with elementary and secondary school children, in the case of the Arkansas program we're talking about college students.

Both protests are irrelevant. As I believe I've shown, the equal protection requirement applies to states whether the individual affected is native born or not. And as for the difference in educational levels, the Supreme Court actually ruled against segregation in higher education years before Brown (see cases cited, Brown at 492). The message is clear: education at any level is a benefit states have to provide with equal access for everybody.

So to answer the question posed by hotair--"Why let illegals who reside in Arkansas get a break that citizens who reside in Alabama don’t?"--the answer is that according to the U.S. Constitution illegals residing in Arkansas are persons Arkansas has jurisdiction over, citizens residing in Alabama are not. Alabamans are free to become Arkansas persons if they decide to pull up stakes in Montgomery and head for the high life in Hot Springs.

I can’t leave the topic of immigrants and education without mentioning a speech given by Mies van der Rohe, the great twentieth century architect, teacher, and immigrant. He left his native Germany in 1937, at a time it was increasingly difficult for an independent minded person to function. Coming to America, he took the position of Director of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. At the dinner where Mies was introduced to the IIT faculty and trustees, he spoke with clarity on the importance of education. Actually, his words may not have been clear, as they were spoken in German since he had not yet mastered English. But translated into our tongue, they vividly express why we should be concerned that everybody in America receives a decent education:

"True education is concerned not only with practical goals but also with values... Our aims assure us of our material life; our values make possible our spiritual life... If teaching has any purpose, it is to implant true insight and responsibility. Education must lead us from irresponsible opinion to true, responsible judgment. It must lead us from chance and arbitrariness to rational clarity and intellectual order." (Quoted in Master Builders by Peter Blake, New York: W.W Norton & Company, 1996, pp. 230-31).

As a responsible society, we need to insure that all children in the United States—including those whose families are her illegally--are implanted with insight and responsibility. Mies was right.

And so was Mike Huckabee. He just didn’t defend his position with rational clarity and intellectual order. Had he shown that the Constitution is in his corner, he could have done just that.

No comments: