Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Americans split over public education for illegal immigrants, poll shows

Maybe it's the recession. Maybe it's the fight over Arizona's tough new law to step up apprehension of illegal immigrants or the headline news about border violence. For whatever reason, Americans are in no mood to coddle people who are in the United States illegally, even if they are hardworking and peaceable.

Even K-12 education for children brought to the US under the radar by their parents – a benefit that the US Supreme Court has said states cannot withhold – does not enjoy majority backing. Support for educating such children stands at 47 percent, compared with 49 percent who oppose it.

The results may hearten two gubernatorial hopefuls who have urged challenging the relevant 1982 high court ruling: Republican Terry Branstad in Iowa and third-party candidate Tom Tancredo in Colorado. Other GOP candidates for governor have said they would push for tough laws like Arizona's, but Mr. Branstad and Mr. Tancredo alone appear ready to test the Supreme Court education ruling that discrimination based on immigration status serves "no compelling state interest."

Regionally, support for educating young illegal immigrants is weakest in the West, which has absorbed the lion's share of newcomers in the past generation. Forty-two percent of Westerners support public schooling for such children, compared with 47 percent in the South, 50 percent in the Midwest, and 52 percent in the Northeast. For illegal immigrants, the findings in the Monitor/TIPP poll get worse:

* One in 4 respondents says the immigrants should be eligible for food stamps and Medicaid (health care for the poor).

* Eighteen percent are willing for illegal immigrants to receive access to public housing. That issue came to the fore with news reports that President Obama's aunt from Kenya, who stayed in the US illegally from 2004 until gaining asylum this year, lived during that time in Boston public housing.

* Support for allowing undocumented college students to qualify for federal or state education grants is just shy of 18 percent.

Legislation was recently introduced in the Senate to tighten borders, crack down on employers of illegal immigrants, and provide an eventual path to citizenship to undocumented workers who are otherwise law-abiding. Past attempts to bring similar bills to the Senate floor have failed, and the new bill is not expected to fare any better in what remains of the current Congress.

The Monitor/TIPP poll was conducted Sept. 7-12 and has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.


Australian PM softens immigration detention policy

JULIA Gillard has dramatically altered the government's policy on asylum-seekers, opening two more detention centres to house 2000 would-be refugees.

The PM has bowed to pressure to release children and their families into the community.

As Australia's detention centre network nears breaking point, with more than 5200 asylum-seekers and crew currently under guard, the Prime Minister yesterday announced plans for new centres in Northam, northeast of Perth, and Inverbrackie, in the Adelaide Hills.

Ms Gillard denied the plans indicated the government had ditched its regional approach to processing asylum-seekers. She said the new centres represented a short-term solution and would allow the closure of temporary detention housing currently being used, including tents and motels.

The decision to release children and their families into communities - effectively subcontracting their day-to-day care to church groups and non-government organisations - was welcomed by the Greens and refugee advocacy groups, who had fought a vigorous campaign to have minors released from detention. The changes will be rolled out over the next eight months.

The new detention centre at Northam will house about 1500 men, while the Inverbrackie facility will be used for about 400 members of family groups. The Northam centre will cost $164.5 million and Inverbrackie $9.7m. Some of this funding has already been provided in the budget and the July economic statement. The government said the new funding of $54.9m would be offset by cuts to follow in other areas.

Ms Gillard said the government was also prepared to use the 11 Mile Antenna Farm outside Darwin and further expand the Melbourne immigration transit accommodation if numbers of unauthorised arrivals continued to swell.

The Rudd government's decision in March to freeze new Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum claims for six and three months respectively and a fall in the proportion of applicants accepted as refugees have led to serious bottlenecks in the detention system. Ms Gillard said the new centres would lead to the closure of inappropriate detention housing, including on Christmas Island and the use of tents. "I don't think it's the Australian way to have kids behind razor wire in the hope that will be a deterrent," she said.

The Prime Minister said the government would continue to pursue a regional solution to the rising number of asylum-seekers coming to Australia. "But in the short term, these measures will give the Department of Immigration a chance to decommission inappropriate accommodation," Ms Gillard said, highlighting the use of temporary tents as accommodation on Christmas Island and motels.

It is not clear exactly how many asylum-seekers will be housed in the community, but with 738 minors in detention - about half of whom arrived as part of a family group - the number is likely to exceed 1000 by June next year.

Church and non-government organisations will be expected to provide accommodation for those under their care, as well as basic services that will include ensuring children are able to attend school.

Asylum-seekers will be subject to reporting requirements to ensure they do not abscond. They will be eligible for a Centrelink payment, under the asylum-seeker assistance scheme, to cover day-to-day living expenses. Government sources told The Australian similar schemes had been trialled with very low absconding rates.

The Prime Minister denied the government's backdown on children in detention was in response to negotiations with the Greens.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it would cost about the same amount to have children and families housed in the community as in detention centres. Refugee advocate Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said yesterday's changes were "long overdue". She said immigration detention put more stress on asylum-seekers, particularly children. "The parents are doing their best to maintain an air of normality, against the odds," Ms Curr said. "(But) if you've got a guard walking into the bedroom, counting the heads of your children, it's very hard to pretend this is normal."

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said more beds would not stop more boats, and condemned the decision to open more centres.

When asked about the Coalition's position on releasing children from detention centres, Mr Morrison said that if the Coalition were in power, they would all be housed in Nauru.

He said he believed Labor was preparing to overuse the provisions in the Migration Act with its changes. "These provisions were intended to deal with exceptional cases," he said. "They will now be used for a broad-scale exodus for hundreds of adults as well as minors from detention places."

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the decision to remove children and unaccompanied minors and some family members from immigration detention was "testament to the long public campaign by the Greens, key NGOs and concerned members of the community". But she expressed concern that their removal from detention was entirely up to a minister's discretion, and that it would take too long to release the children.

"No new detention centres should be built until there is a legislated time limit placed on the holding of asylum-seekers in detention," she said.


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