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EDITORIAL: Education, drug war are immigration issues

President Barack Obama’s decision to unilaterally rewrite American immigration law is brazenly unconstitutional, transparently political and shockingly hypocritical.

His plan, even if it were lawful, is also woefully incomplete.

Less than two years ago, the president famously acknowledged the limits of his powers by saying, “I’m not a king. I am the head of the executive branch of government. I’m required to follow the law.” Yet tonight, he is expected to tell the nation he will grant relief from deportation to as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States and perhaps allow them to legally obtain work. Then, on Friday, the president will sign his order at a Las Vegas event to rally Hispanics, who twice helped elect him but failed to support his party in this month’s midterms, in part, because of federal inaction on immigration reform.

The president is overreaching for the same reason he can’t: Congress hasn’t reached agreement on a legislative overhaul of U.S. immigration policy. There remains broad disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on how much additional border security is needed, whether people in the country illegally should be given a path to citizenship and whether reforms should focus on highly skilled, highly educated immigrants instead of those with no education and few skills.

But two huge issues affected greatly by illegal immigration remain completely absent from immigration policy discussions: schools and the war on drugs. The president should make these important matters part of the discussion when he speaks Friday at Del Sol High School.

Illegal immigration has imposed enormous costs on the Clark County School District, and illegal immigration is one of the biggest reasons why Gov. Brian Sandoval and the 2015 Legislature will consider enacting significant tax increases and major education reforms. A Pew Research Center study released Tuesday said Nevada has the highest proportion of illegal immigrants of any U.S. state, at 7.6 percent of its population, or more than 200,000 total. Although governments are meticulous about tracking every statistic imaginable, school systems don’t document the immigration status of students and their families, so we can’t be certain how many local schoolchildren are in the country illegally, or are citizen children of undocumented immigrants.

However, we do know that more than one in five Clark County students is classified as an English Language Learner, and that about 90 percent of the county’s ELL students are Spanish speakers — more than 60,000 total. ELL students have a graduation rate just north of 20 percent, a figure that anchors Nevada’s schools at the bottom of national rankings.

Teaching children English requires highly trained teachers and lots of money — money Nevada’s schools don’t have, especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession. So Nevadans are expected to pay full freight for the failures of federal immigration policy. And now the president is taking steps that not only ensure undocumented immigrants and their families can stay here, but ensure future waves of illegal immigration that will continue to burden American schools.

Any immigration reform plan should include a massive infusion of federal funding for schools adversely affected by illegal immigration, and perhaps the creation of federally funded English academies. If taxpayers in every state had to equally share the fiscal costs of illegal immigration, divided federal lawmakers would find more immigration policies they could agree on.

Meanwhile, this country’s insatiable appetite for illegal drugs has enriched cartels south of the U.S. border, driven tens of thousands of refugees here, made the border region incredibly dangerous and expanded police powers to the detriment of American civil liberties. The simplest way to bankrupt drug lords; provide relief to crowded American courts, jails and prisons; boost local, state and federal tax collections; and stabilize the border while reducing criminal crossings: end the failed war on drugs. Congress can start by removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and pave the way for massive marijuana decriminalization.

The president, in exceeding his authority, isn’t helping. America needs policies that attempt to clean up the country’s immigration mess, not unconstitutional orders that make it worse.

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