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House GOP votes to ban the use of schools as shelters for asylum-seekers

Democrats said the Schools Not Shelters Act would do ‘nothing to protect resources
for students and schools or address physical safety.’

By Josh Israel - July 20, 2023
Asylum-seekers on bus in New York City.
Asylum-seekers are transferred via city bus from Port Authority Bus Terminal to a housing facility on May 14, 2023, in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Two hundred and eighteen House Republicans voted on Wednesday to cut federal education funding from localities that use school facilities as temporary shelters for migrants seeking asylum in the United States. Though Democrats noted that the bill would do nothing to make schools safer, it passed on a 222-201 vote, with four Democrats voting in favor.

“I think this is red meat for the political base,” Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the ranking member of the House Rules Committee, said Monday. “And again, the idea, you’re talking about the safety of kids, and not a damn thing about gun violence. And kids are being massacred on a daily basis, but I guess political interests outweigh the public safety issues on guns.”

With a recent increase in the number of asylum-seekers waiting for a hearing and Republican governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida deceitfully luring and dumping migrants in blue states, some localities have converted school gymnasiums into temporary shelters. In May, New York City Mayor Eric Adams told New York 1 such a move was necessary because “[o]ver 65,000 migrant asylum seekers have reached our city.”

Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in May that she might use state universities as additional temporary migrant housing.

Republicans in Congress were outraged. In June, they brought a resolution to the House floor under the title “Condemning the use of elementary and secondary school facilities to provide shelter for aliens who are not admitted to the United States.” It passed on a mostly party-line vote, 223-201, with seven Democrats voting in favor. “It’s Republicans spending time and taxpayer dollars to trot out stereotypes of migrants as dangerous and dirty and who knows what else,” Democratic Illinois Rep. Chuy García said during the floor debate. “Perhaps they are using this resolution to distract from the continued attempts to ban books, to take food assistance from needy families, and to block child tax credits which could help families across the country.”

The Schools Not Shelters Act, introduced by Republican New York Rep. Marc Molinaro and originally co-sponsored by four New York Republican representatives, would “prohibit the use of the facilities of a public elementary school, a public secondary school, or an institution of higher education to provide shelter for aliens who have not been admitted into the United States.” Its sole exception would be in cases of “certain disasters such as a fire, flood, explosion, or tornado for which there has been a disaster declaration.” If it becomes law, states or localities choosing not to comply with the ban will forfeit federal education funds.

“I’m fighting to stop Governor Hochul from using schools and colleges as shelters for migrants. Upstate New York taxpayers pay thousands of dollars to support our public education system,” Molinaro said in a May 26 press release. “SUNY college students pay thousands of dollars for room and board. Our schools are not shelters.”

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce recommended the bill on June 30. In the minority views section of the committee report, the Democratic members noted, “This bill does nothing to protect resources for students and schools or address physical safety.”

They noted that schools have been used as temporary shelters frequently throughout U.S. history, during natural disasters and to house refugees: “According to the Council of the Great City Schools, `[i]n recent years, the nation’s urban public schools have opened their doors to families from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Cuba, Haiti, Guatemala, Vietnam, Sudan, and many other countries as they were seeking refuge, freedom, and a better tomorrow.’”

“Committee Republicans are now targeting immigrants and the use of schools as emergency shelters rather than focusing on legislation that will actually help students and schools,” the committee’s Democrats added. “ H.R. 3941 would take these decisions away from institutional and local leaders and prohibit institutions who shelter migrants from receiving federal funding.”

The bill appears to contradict a frequent GOP talking point: that Republicans are in favor of local control of education. The Republican National Committee’s party platform, adopted in 2016 and left unchanged in 2020, states, “Congressional Republicans are leading the way forward with major reform legislation advancing the concept of block grants and repealing numerous federal regulations which have interfered with state and local control of public schools.”

On Wednesday, the Biden administration indicated its strong opposition to the bill in a statement of administration policy:

The Administration is strongly opposed to H.R. 3941, the Schools Not Shelters Act of 2023, which would supersede local control, interfering with the ability of States and municipalities to effectively govern and make decisions about their school buildings. The bill would do this by prohibiting certain educational institutions that receive Federal funding—including funds that strengthen equal access to education, assist students from low-income families, improve educational opportunities for those with disabilities, and provide access to college—from using their facilities to shelter noncitizens seeking asylum in the United States, as such noncitizens are permitted to do under the law.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where the Democratic majority is unlikely to bring it up for a vote.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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