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Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 2003 / 4 Teves, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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No history, no study, no debate

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The Associated Press and various newspapers reported this month that UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center released a "study" that recommended allowing California's 4.6 million noncitizens to vote in local elections.

But there was no study. There was no new research or in-depth information. There was a Latino Policy & Issue Brief written by UCLA law professor Joaquin C. Avila. The brief cited census data that found that noncitizen adults comprise large portions of California municipalities -- such as 32 percent of Los Angeles -- and then concluded that "a substantial number of persons, who contribute to our economy and our government's revenues, are being denied political representation" -- which he dubbed "political apartheid."

That is, there were a few used statistics, followed by Avila's political views.

The brief revealed no sense of scholarship. In a paper released by a great university, Avila never distinguished between legal and illegal immigrants or bothered to recognize a status that has survived two millennia and served as a cornerstone of the world's democracies: citizenship.

The professor instead acknowledged simply that not being a citizen presents a legal hurdle to voting. He didn't address the implications of extending voting rights to people who deliberately have broken the law. He didn't recognize that citizenship confers responsibilities as well as rights. He didn't address historical arguments. Avila didn't even explore what might be the consequences of allowing noncitizens to vote.

"If you have citizenship, but also this voting rights idea, what you're really saying is that if you've lived here for a while, you can vote, but you're not really one of us," noted Steve Camorata of the Center for Immigration Studies. "In an odd sort of way, it reinforces the oddness of the immigrant."


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Avila also wasn't intellectually honest. He wrote that California's Proposition 187 "sought to deny certain benefits to the immigrant community" - - when, in fact, the 1994 measure targeted illegal immigrants. Academics are supposed to bring light to an issue, not cover up inconvenient facts.

Many critics have complained that the "study" is taxpayer-funded political activism. But what bothers me is the lack of scholarship in this UCLA product. A UCLA spokesman noted that the administration shouldn't interfere with the "free exchange of ideas." He's right -- but there's no exchange here.

Universities are supposed to expose students to the world of ideas. How is that possible when its alleged scholars can't distinguish between scholarly study and propaganda?

Consider Avila's recommendation to win voting rights for noncitizens by increasing "public debate." Quite a suggestion, since it's clear that Avila doesn't want debate. Debate allows both sides to be heard, whereas Avila's idea of debate turns out to be "conferences and symposiums" that "formulate strategies for empowering this politically excluded community."

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate