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Immigration can redeem education reformers’ progressive credentials

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Degree of  Interest

Immigration policy is to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton what health care was to President Obama.

Democratic education reformers should act accordingly and prepare to lose some “friends” in the process.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a campaign event in New York, Monday, July 13, 2015.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a campaign event in New York, Monday, July 13, 2015.

Republicans’ failure to offer amnesty to undocumented immigrants only increases the amount of time immigrants naturalize and assimilate.

There is no practical, political or moral way we can deport our neighbors and separate them from their American-born relatives.

Let’s just call the stalling tactic for what it is: sustaining a second-class citizenry is a pillar of conservative politics.

It’s clear that Republicans are thwarting any kind of reasonable immigration reform including immigrant educational rights.

According to one study, only about one-third of Republicans (32 percent) say that newcomers from other countries strengthen American society – but majorities of independents (52 percent) and Democrats (63 percent) say they do. Apparently, Democrats’ political silence on this issue amplifies conservative voices. Conservative attitudes reverberate locally and nationally in terms of our policing, financial aid and health care policies. One would think Democrats who identify themselves as education reformers would fight for immigrants in state houses and in Congress.

Last week’s Supreme Court 4-4 vote on President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) keeps in place the lower court ruling that stopped an executive order sanctioning undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens to reside legally in the United States up to three years and apply for work permits.

While the ruling ostensibly removed an arrow from Obama’s quiver of strategies to recognize our durable neighbors as such, it extends the deadlock in Congress, which keeps certain immigrants from having political rights they have earned through living and contributing to the country. The ruling hurts millions of children. Consequently, it gives education reformers an opportunity to redeem their progressive credentials and fight for students and the party.

Democrats who consider themselves education reformers should differentiate themselves by establishing the Dream Act, DACA and other programs as central to the cause. A charter school means nothing without full citizenship. For decades, Dems have serviced Republicans’ efforts by turning a blind eye to policies that hurt immigrants, women and blacks in exchange for the tokens of charter schools, which can reflect any political affiliation.

Hillary Clinton has an opportunity to make clearer what being a progressive educator means. A stand on immigration reform can bring into focus what being a Democrat for education reform really means.

“Where does Hillary stand on education reform?” isn’t a question of consequence.

To what extent will education reformers fight for undocumented people is more important.

Will education reformers risk their flimsy alliances to support our immigrant neighbors? The rhetoric of  “I’m not conservative or liberal, I’m for the kids” falls flat. Blacks, women and Native Americans have lived with this kind of immoral pragmatism with limited results.

Women and blacks lived as members of the country for generations, but citizenship had to catch up to their unrecognized status. The institution of slavery, not being able to vote and separate-but-equal policies kept essential rights of being American from black arms’ reach. Women’s citizenship status was (is) reflected in her (in)ability to vote. The suffrage movement was a citizenship movement.

History is littered with the hypocrisy of residents being American but not fully citizens.

Immigrants are the latest group to have to fight for what they deserve – recognition and political rights.

Related: Why more black male teachers should be feminists

The right’s willingness to maintain second-class citizenry isn’t new. Equivocation didn’t give blacks and women the rights they deserved. Democrats who so willingly form alliances with conservatives forget history.

Likewise, many undocumented immigrants are already American. They reside in homes, work, bear American children, go to school, pay taxes, worship, fear terrorist attacks and mourn the deaths of Prince and Muhammad Ali.

The reciprocation of resources, work and culture naturalizes people to a country whether you like it or not.

The longer we stall, the more undocumented immigrants become American albeit second-class citizens.

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,” Audre Lorde famously said.

Lorde was mainly correct. However, if you’re not a citizen, you have a limited political life.

For instance, school choice offers little to a parent who lives under the threat of deportation.

If elected, Clinton must deliver amnesty for the millions of undocumented immigrants, and she must fix a broken immigration system that has a habit of using backlogs as a naturalization process for second-class citizenry.

We think charter schools are controversial. There are few issues as divisive as immigration reform; there are even fewer issues as important as citizenship.

In spite of her union endorsements and dialing back of certain reforms (many of which needed dialing back), Democratic education reformers must thoroughly back Clinton’s immigration reform efforts so that we don’t forget the point of an education.

We go to school to become better citizens. But our actions show that citizenship is luxury in education reform debates.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more columns by Andre Perry

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Andre Perry

Dr. Andre Perry, a contributing writer, is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at The Brookings Institution. Perry was the founding dean of urban education at… See Archive

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