Back-to-School Day In Arizona, But Not for Border Crossing Kids

Kids need certificates to verify residency and board school buses.

By Julianne Hing Aug 23, 2010

Anti-immigrant diva Tom Horne has a primary to win tomorrow, and he’s going to do whatever he has to do to become attorney general. Even if it means stomping on a couple dozen kids to get there.

It’s back-to-school day in the small border town of Ajo, Arizona (population: 4,300), but not if you can’t prove you’re an American resident. That’s the rule Arizona school chief Horne has decided to enforce as kids get ready to head back to class.

The Arizona Republic reports that Horne won’t let kids get on the school bus if they can’t prove their primary residence is north of the border; Ajo is 40 miles from the border and one of the stops on the school bus’ 36-mile route takes it right up to the border at Lukeville. According to the Arizona Republic it was a common, longstanding custom that kids in Mexico could cross through to Lukeville, get on the bus and go to Ajo for school for the day. Now, students will need certificates to get on the bus.

Horne, who’s running for state attorney general, was tipped off by a 2004 report from the paper and CNN. In May Horne’s office decided to sue the Ajo Unified School District for $1.2 million for educating a whopping 105 students since 2007–except more than half of that batch actually were legal residents of Arizona. The town’s school district has been unable to confirm the home addresses for a couple dozen other students, and offered to settle the matter for $300,000, which the Arizona Department of Education has declined.

The Arizona Republic reports that the issue is not about illegal immigration but about residence; Arizona law makes room for undocumented children to attend school, as long as they live in the state. But legal fine print aside, the border debate is always centered around what rights people are allowed to claim–or have swiped away from them at the whim of opportunistic political candidates–depending on where they happen to have been born, and which side of the border they happen to be standing on when new walls are erected and laws announced.

Horne made headlines earlier this year for pushing HB 2281, the new state law that bans ethnic studies in Arizona. He took to the airwaves and called ethnic studies courses in Arizona divisive; according to Horne they pushed a separatist, radical agenda that promoted "ethnic chauvinism." That new policy, signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer (who’s got a primary of her own coming up tomorrow) is set to go into effect on December 31.