24 Aug

Trump leads GOP against the 14th Amendment

It was always hard to figure out the logistics of just how more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants in Oregon were going to be quickly shipped out of the country, as the hardest-line voices have been demanding. PDX is indeed an international airport, but it doesn’t have that many flights out of the country, and a lot of those flights go to Vancouver.

Otherwise, it would be a matter of finding thousands of buses, or figuring on much more efficient service from Amtrak than we’ve ever seen.

There would also be the matter of tens of thousands of Oregon families being taken apart, and large parts of the Oregon economy essentially ceasing to exist, but hey, we’re talking about a principle here.

But we can put those calculations on hold, and even not worry so much about the families being separated. According to the newest themes in the Republican presidential primary, the approximately 50,000 American citizens in Oregon who are children of those undocumented immigrants don’t belong here either.

There may not be enough buses in the country.

Eight Republican candidates for president, led by Donald Trump, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, are now calling for the end of birthright citizenship, the 14th Amendment guarantee that anyone born in this country qualifies as a U.S. citizen. It’s not entirely clear whether this would be retroactive, stripping citizenship from tens of thousands of born Oregonians who grew up rooting for the Trail Blazers, but it would seem to reconcile two of Trump’s positions: that all undocumented immigrants must leave – in Trump’s phrase “They have to go” – and that he’s opposed to breaking up families.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 11.6 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, with just over 1 percent – about 120,000, a decrease from before the Great Recession – in Oregon. The center also calculates 4.5 million U.S.-born children – American citizens – living with them. By the same 1 percent calculation, that would come to 45,000 to 50,000 American children of undocumented immigrants in Oregon.

At least, they’re American as long as we still have the 14th Amendment, which about half the Republican presidential field is prepared to dump – or, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, “seriously reconsider” – in which case, Oregon will need a lot more buses.

Oregon has already gone through the 14th Amendment fight once, ratifying the amendment right after the Civil War, when it was intended to protect the citizenship of freed slaves. After the amendment went into effect, in 1868, the Democrats captured the Oregon legislature and attempted to repeal ratification, but failed due to the constitutional principle of no-backsies. (Just to make sure, the Oregon legislature re-ratified the 14th Amendment in 1973.)

The principle doesn’t seem to interfere with the current debate, where candidates are cheerfully willing to toss the 14th amendment, just as we once dumped Prohibition. (Some candidates might also be willing to dispense with some other amendments.) Several would support a constitutional amendment to repeal birthright citizenship, although that would take two-thirds of a Congress that has trouble finding just a majority to do anything. It would also take 38 state legislatures, although it’s not hard to think of quite a few that wouldn’t cooperate.

That list would likely include the Oregon legislature, which – far from stripping citizenship from Oregon natives – voted in 2013 to extend in-state university tuition to undocumented graduates of Oregon high schools.

Not only are Oregon Democrats different than they were in 1868, but three Republican senators and five GOP representatives supported the tuition bill.

It’s still six months until the Iowa caucuses, and nine until the Oregon primary, and nobody knows what issues – or candidates – are going to make it here next May. But the number of candidates now attacking birthright citizenship, and the 14th Amendment suggests we’ll be hearing the argument in Portland and Medford. Even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who does support the 14th Amendment, now warns about “anchor babies” – probably not the term the 50,000 U.S. citizens in Oregon with undocumented parents use about themselves.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Oregon has 170,000 U.S. citizens under 18 with at least one foreign-born parent, who may not be crazy about the phrase, either.

If we’re having a debate here next spring not only about deporting all undocumented immigrants, but about stripping the citizenship rights of their U.S.-born children, we will be talking about changing the face of Oregon. We would reach something we’ve never before managed in Oregon:

A presidential primary debate about mass transit.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 8/23/15.

24 Aug

To increase graduation, don’t test kids, watch them

Oregon’s on-time high school graduation rate is appalling. We’re among the lowest states in the country, although there’s no reason to think Oregon teenagers are any more impervious to algebra than other teenagers.

Because there are Oregon districts and schools that make it work. Hillsboro high schools, and Rex Putnam High School in Clackamas County, graduate their kids at much higher percentages, and have improved their performance.

What’s key is watching for problems early, and not trying to catch up when it’s too late.

That means watching kids closely during ninth grade, when a lot of kids have trouble with the middle school to high school jump, and fall behind in a way that makes catching up a towering challenge. It means watching for any point when a student starts to seem overwhelmed, or begins to have a truancy problem. A key part of the strategy is building relationships between students and adults.

In a high school bigger than any school they’ve attended before, with all the confusions and pressures of being a teenager, kids can fall through the cracks, and take your graduation rate with them.

These days, we believe in constantly testing kids, and demanding their standardized scores.

But to raise graduation rates, don’t watch the numbers.
Watch the kids.

NOTE: This commentary appeared on KGW-TV, 8/22/15.