Amendment to Immigration Bill Challenges Court

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: The House continues to tinker with a controversial immigration bill as it nears an expected floor vote Friday. Representatives added an amendment that would permit state and local law enforcement agencies to detain illegal aliens for the Immigration and Naturalization Service and retained a pilot program that lets employers call an INS hotline to check the employability of workers. However, the key addition was an amendment sponsored by Representative Elton Gallegly, which would allow states to bar the children of illegal immigrants from public schools. Gallegly's amendment passed 257-163, but opponents may have the Supreme Court on their side. In a 1982 ruling, the Court said that all children, whether citizens, legal or illegal aliens, have a right to free public education. Gallegly, a California Republican, argues that his amendment would provide the federal directive necessary to allow states to close the schoolhouse door to illegal immigrant children. Correspondent Adam Cohen, who often covers legal issues for TIME, says Congress will intentionally test the Court. "The Supreme Court has changed in composition since 1982, and that may be part of the Republican strategy," he says. "I'm not sure that there would still be a majority supporting the Court's decision." States have argued that the federal government has no right to mandate the schooling of undocumented alien children without assuming the costs. Supporters of the bill also charge that free education serves as a magnet attracting illegal immigrants. But Cohen notes that the Supreme Court ruling noted that the public has an interest in schooling children to prevent the creation of an uneducated underclass.