The state's top education official warned Wednesday that Arizona schools could be inundated with tens of thousands of immigrant children at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars if President Obama enacts some kind of amnesty.
But John Huppenthal conceded he has absolutely nothing to back that up. In fact, Huppenthal acknowledged that federal law already requires Arizona — and all states — to educate children regardless of their immigration status. That, he said, means the children who he fears might be granted amnesty likely already are here and in Arizona schools.
“Perhaps,” he said, saying there is no way to know “all of the implications” of what the president might order.
“In the past there have been complex effects of, depending on how it's worded, how it's structured, how it's administered,” Huppenthal said. “All of these things could inadvertently open up the flood and hit us, hit us hard.”
Huppenthal said he has been worried about the problem now for some months in the wake of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States through Texas. He said at last count there were about 200 of them, out of more than 37,000 as of July 31, were released to sponsors in Arizona.
He said, though, his press conference was called for Wednesday because of the “imminent” threat of an Obama declaration, one he wants to impact.
State Sen. Steve Gallardo, a Phoenix Democrat, said he sees a far different motive in the timing, coming less than a week before the Republican primary.
“This is what you do in Arizona politics,” he said.
“When you're losing in the polls and it looks like your days as an elected official are numbered, that's when you start moving towards attacking undocumented kids,” Gallardo said. “And that's exactly what he's doing.”
Huppenthal, who faces a tough primary challenge next week from Republican Diane Douglas — and then will face a Democrat in November if he survives — insisted there was nothing political about it.
Huppenthal, who had the press conference in his state office, insisted there was nothing political about it. He said just those approximately 200 children will have a $1 million effect on the state budget, what with average state aid to public schools in the $5,100-per-student range. That, Huppenthal said, is the least of the problem.
Huppenthal then produced a chart with a $50.8 million price tag if 10,000 children end up in Arizona schools through “illegal immigration under amnesty.” That same chart showed the cost rising to $101.6 million for 20,000 children — along with an unlabeled bar saying the cost actually could top $200 million depending on how many children show up.
He also produced a copy of a letter to federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan warning of a potential fiscal crisis that could result due to a massive influx of amnesty-seeking illegal immigrant school-aged children crossing into Arizona from its unsecured border (which) could potentially cost Arizona taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
But Huppenthal acknowledged he has absolutely no basis for any of his estimates of new students. He also brushed aside repeated questions of whether the Republican-controlled U.S. House might have created the need or opportunity for executive action by refusing to vote on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal.
The superintendent appeared taken aback by a question from a reporter asking if he is a racist, pointing out some of his anonymous blog posts like one where he wrote, “This is America, speak English.”
“I grew up on the south side of Tucson,” saying the elementary school he went to was in the “highest minority, highest poverty, lowest income area of Tucson.”
“My social circle was Marcelino Lucero, Manny Gonzales, Jimmy Ortega, Louie Rodriguez,” Huppenthal continued. “Those were my buddies for eight straight years.”