COMMENTARY: Miller revives bad idea by bullying migrant kids

In this Jan. 2, 2019, file photo White House senior adviser Stephen Miller listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington. Miller indicated Sunday, Feb. 17, on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump is prepared to issue the first veto of his term if Congress votes to disapprove of his declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR., Special to the Star

SAN DIEGO — Stephen Miller is a magnet for bad ideas. The White House adviser, and de-facto immigration czar, never lets a stinker get by. If there is a proposal out there to reduce immigration (legal or illegal) that is unworkable, unfair, unlawful or un-American, it’ll come to him in a stroke of idiocy.

This includes ideas that are dead and buried. In politics, evil concepts rise from the grave through black magic because arrogant and ignorant people are hell-bent on repeating mistakes of the past.

One such idea is a plan to bar undocumented immigrant children from the nation’s public schools. Given that hundreds of thousands of such students are currently in America’s classrooms, this would be like detonating an atomic bomb in the country’s socioeconomic system.

You’d have to go back a quarter century to find anyone who thought this sort of thing was ever a good idea. It was way back in 1994 that Republicans first flirted with this concept as a way to combat illegal immigration. They targeted California, where today — in a related development — you’d have trouble finding enough Republicans to fill the Rose Bowl.

The threat was written into the language of Proposition 187, a punitive ballot initiative to deny services to illegal immigrants that split open the Golden State like a piñata and turned the state deep blue. The measure — which also sought to deny access to public-aid programs and nonemergency health care — was approved by 59% of voters. But it was immediately struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge.

No surprise there. As supporters were warned before votes were cast, the provision denying public education to undocumented students ran counter to a 1982 Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe, which requires that public schools open their doors to all students — regardless of legal status.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said that barring immigrant children from schools would “foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our nation” and that punishing them for their parents’ actions “does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.”

Yet this discredited idea still enjoys some faint support on the right-wing fringe.

That’s where you’ll find Miller. Since at least 2017, he has been looking for ways to give states the authority to bar undocumented immigrant children from public schools. He seems to have put the idea on the backburner after being told that it ran afoul of Plyler. Given that he spent his childhood in Southern California, and that he’s presumably familiar with Prop. 187, it’s likely he already knew that the plan was legally flawed. Which suggests he’s not intimidated by Supreme Court precedent. In fact, he may be betting that Plyler will be overturned if a more conservative array of justices gets a crack at it.

We can assume that Miller isn’t done chewing on this bone. He’s obviously spoiling for a fight.

OK, let’s fight.

As with most manual labor in California, Latinos get the credit for the paint job that turned the state dark blue. The institution we value most — and of which we are most protective — is family. Attack that, and we’ll haunt you for 100 years. As California Republicans learned, we don’t forgive — or forget.

And we’ll never forget Prop. 187 — or its despicable objective of expelling undocumented kids from school. That kind of radical policy change is meanspirited, counterproductive and unfair.

After all, illegal immigrants pay taxes — payroll, sales, property, etc. Some of those tax dollars go to fund the public schools — which would then exclude their children. The last time a ruling authority tried to pull a stunt that crooked, wooden crates of tea wound up floating in Boston Harbor.

It’s illogical to complain that immigrants are a burden on society, and then make the burden worse by ensuring that they — and their children — can’t use education to become productive. Besides, America isn’t a Charles Dickens novel. We don’t punish children for the sins of their parents.

Miller’s thinking — such that it is — seems to be that, if illegal immigrants knew that they couldn’t enroll their children in public schools, they would stay in their home country no matter how dangerous or destitute.

That is dizzying logic. Just because this guy is obsessed with immigrants doesn’t mean he understands them. Clearly, he doesn’t.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app