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PROTECT IMMIGRANT CHILDREN



Published: Fri, September 6, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



PROTECT IMMIGRANT CHILDREN

Chicago Tribune: In the context of American immigration, their numbers are tiny, but their stories harrowing and crying for attention. Every year about 5,000 foreign children arrive in the United States alone. Sometimes cruelty is involved -- baby smuggling for illegal adoptions or trafficking of youngsters for prostitution. Just as often it's tragic circumstances -- a teen-ager escaping an abusive home or a parent sending a child on his own in hopes of a better future.

What happens to those children upon arrival is equally unpredictable. The ones that end up in Chicago are relatively lucky -- they are placed in a group home while their status is resolved. Those who arrive at other locations may not be so fortunate.

Congress has a chance to correct this situation by transferring responsibility for these children from immigration authorities to a special unit of the Department of Health and Human Services specially equipped to deal with such cases.

With small variations, the homeland security bills passed by both houses of Congress contain such reform. President Bush, however, remains uncommitted. There's some fear the reforms may get tossed out during the conference horse-trading over the final version of the bill. The president ought to get behind the reform effort.

The system in place today within the Immigration and Naturalization Service is self-defeating. The agency is expected to prosecute, defend and protect these young illegal immigrants and in most cases accomplishes none of those missions particularly well.

Last year about 4,600 children landed in INS' lap. The average age was 15 but in some cases they were as young as 18 months. Most come from Latin America, but many also from places as distant as China, Thailand and Africa. Upon arrival, some are placed with temporary foster parents or housed in group homes, but nearly one-third are incarcerated. Most of them don't have adequate representation during immigration proceedings to decide their future.

Temporary guardian

The bills in Congress would entrust these children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates in every state through non-profit agencies, and has experience in handling minors. Each would be assigned a temporary guardian to look out for his interests and facilitate the appointment of a pro bono counsel.

Assigning these children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement makes sense. It would not compromise national security. Nor would it encourage further migration: Asylum regulations would not be changed, though the chances of the children getting a fair hearing certainly would improve. The purpose of the hearings remains to determine what's best for the child, which in many cases is repatriation with their families or finding a relative willing to take them in the U.S.

BETTER FOR BOYS AND GIRLS?

Raleigh News & amp; Observer: Schools ought to be greenhouses for intellectual growth. But when nature adds puberty into the mix, students can lose their focus on learning of the academic variety. That makes middle schools excellent places to offer parents the choice of single-sex education for their kids.

The Title IX ban on sex discrimination in schools stood in the way of single-sex classes until last year's education overhaul included an encouraging clause. Now the U.S. Department of Education is drafting new Title IX regulations giving schools more flexibility on single-sex classes.

At the end of the day, of course, the rules must keep school systems from slipping into separate and unequal opportunities for boys and girls. But avoiding that trap seems to be a reachable goal so long as educators listen to their own research. A landmark study comparing coed and single-sex schools over 20 years concluded that students from more advantaged backgrounds received minimal benefit from single-sex classes. Poor and minority students, though, achieved significantly more, the study found.

Race issue

Opponents rightly assert that separating students would be rejected if based on race. That's because Americans overwhelmingly believe that people are the same, whatever their race. Segregated schools assumed otherwise.

Single-sex schools are no comparison, because boys and girls are different. Biologically. Science has shown that they mature at different rates and may even process information differently. It doesn't take a scientist, either, to recognize common middle-school behaviors such as girls playing dumb and boys posturing, nor to figure out how they interfere with concentration and learning.

Offering, not mandating, single-sex classes in middle schools as a teaching solution for disadvantaged students could make a valuable contribution to closing the achievement gap. If the new regulations can promote that, the sooner they take effect, the better.




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