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Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Ban Dangerous Precedent for Entire Nation

As daily protests continue at the Arizona state capitol in Phoenix, US Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) called Arizona’s controversial Ethnic Studies ban a “dangerous precedent” not only for Tucson’s besieged Mexican American Studies program, but “for the entire nation.”

Coordinated by statewide Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies advocates, the Capitol protests follow two weeks of upheaval in Tucson, where actions by students and community members derailed a hasty resolution by the Tucson Unified School District officials to demote the acclaimed program.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, whose campaign ran an ad “to stop la raza” last fall, is now awaiting results of a costly and discredited audit of Tucson’s Ethnic Studies Program. Despite the school district’s own internal assessment of the program’s nationally praised achievements, the district risks losing over $15 million in funds if state officials declare the program to be out of compliance with the highly politicized law.

“This legislation against diversity might be focused on Tucson,” Grijalva told me in a brief phone interview, “but it has significant ramifications across the country.”

As Georgia, Indiana and other states inch toward copycat Arizona immigration bills, Grijalva also released a statement of support for today’s reintroduction of the DREAM ACT–Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011–on the heels of President Obama’s major address on immigration reform yesterday. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne defiantly petitioned the US Supreme Court this week after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn a federal court block on the state’s radical SB 1070 immigration law.

To be clear: The Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies Program showdown in Tucson these past weeks have also served as a reminder that the Arizona ban is not about immigration issues. The Ethnic Studies ban, Grijalva said, was part of a “pattern” of misguided policies against select communities in Arizona and the country. Grijalva praised the Ethnic Studies student group UNIDOS, among other community advocates, for their leadership in focusing on the issue and getting the school board to delay a vote until the state audit decision and subsequent legal challenges. Ethnic Studies teachers have also filed a federal suit on the state law’s constitutionality.

“We are descendants of those who founded this city,” long-time Tucson activist Salomon Baldenegro, Sr. testified before the Tucson Unified School District board hearing on May 5th, “and descendants of those who founded public education.”

Grijalva, who served on the Tucson Unified School District school board in the 1970s and 1980s, praised the Ethnic Studies “proven track record,” and noted that the Program was “not something new that has popped up over night.” Instead, he criticized Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, a Canadian immigrant and former state school superintendent, for his near obsessive and inflammatory campaign over the past few years to “single out” a certain group of people for ideological purposes.

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