High court's alien ruling worries states

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Who's going to pay the bills?

That's what some states are wondering now that the Supreme Court has ruled that they must provide illegal aliens a free public education.

Evidence presented in the case, and assessments by a number of experts interviewed by the Monitor, indicate that most illegal aliens pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

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But the ruling leaves states to struggle with the question of how to pay for the new court-imposed responsibility.

Texas officials are asking for federal financial help to educate these children, saying the children often need special bilingual and academic assistance.

''As of now our pleas have fallen on somewhat deaf ears,'' says Rick Gray, executive assistant to Texas Attorney General Mark White.

Mr. White's position is that the US government should either enforce the immigration laws or help pay for the consequences.

Many officials are pointing a finger at Congress for the failure of the US government to keep out illegal aliens. If the borders were controlled, the issue of what to do with the children of illegal aliens would not have become a major issue.

But the children are here. And not educating them promotes ''a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime,'' said Justice William J. Brennan, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision.

The Supreme Court decision was a good one, says California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Wilson Riles. California estimates it has 40,000 children of illegal aliens -- perhaps twice as many as Texas. But their parents pay taxes, in most cases, Mr. Riles says.

''I just simply believe the role of the public school is to teach the children who come to the school house door,'' he says. Schools should not try to solve immigration problems, he adds.

Texas Commissioner of Education Raymond Bynum is concerned that the costs to states such as his might eventually climb if the Supreme Court decision either attracts more illegal aliens, or is broadly applied to grant them a right to welfare, food stamps, and other government assistance.

''I personally have a little bit of trouble saying someone criminally in the US has all a citizen's rights,'' he said.

But granting free public education to the children of illegal aliens is ''not going to open the flood gates for more people or to a lot of other benefits,'' says Antonia Hernandez of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which won the case.

She says the high court defined education as a special right, indicating that Congress has the power to limit other benefits, such as food stamps.

David North, who completed a 1981 study of illegal aliens for the New TransCentury Foundation in Washington, says most of the children affected by this week's Supreme Court ruling have been attending school all along. Texas has allowed them to attend since 1980 when the state lost its appeal on its law barring their attendance.

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