Walk the line

Every day, hundreds of backpack-toting children cross the Lake Amistad Dam Bridge in Del Rio, Texas. This wouldn't normally be cause for complaint except that the bridge spans the U.S.-Mexico border and many of the children crossing that line are likely attending American public schools without student visas. Plenty of such crossings are legal--students and parents who’re U.S. citizens, green card holders, or recipients of student visas to attend private schools. In fact, many families have relatives on, and do their shopping in, both countries. But students who cross the border simply looking for a better free public education are breaking the law. That’s because public school attendance is based on residency, not citizenship. You don’t have to be a citizen—or even a legal immigrant—to attend a U.S. public school. In fact, a long-standing Supreme Court ruling forbids schools to ask about citizenship at all, making immigration status a nonissue. But you do have to be an inhabitant of a U.S. school district. We’ve long fretted over school systems that post guards at district borders to detect and repel children from the next district over, though those kids and their parents are seeking only a better education. But what happens when that border is not just a district line--or even a state border--but an international boundary between two countries? Adds a whole new dimension to the school choice debate.

Students warned to prove Texas residence or leave,” by Michelle Roberts, Associated Press, September 21, 2009