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House Passes “Hateful” Bill to Defund Schools That Give Asylum Seekers Shelter

The bill targets two top scapegoats for the Republican Party: public schools and asylum seekers.

Community members protest outside the Public School 188 Michael E. Berdy at Coney Island on May 16, 2023, in Brooklyn borough of New York City, in response to New York City officials turning to at least three different schools to help house asylum seekers.

The House passed a bill this week aimed at barring schools and universities from giving shelter to asylum seekers in a time when members of both major parties are increasing their attacks on migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.

The Schools Not Shelters Act, originally introduced by Republican Rep. Marcus Molinaro (New York), passed the House 222 to 201 on Wednesday, with Republicans joined by four Democrats, Representatives Henry Cuellar (Texas), Susie Lee (Nevada), Mary Peltola (Alaska) and Patrick Ryan (New York) in supporting the bill.

The bill would strip federal funding from public grade schools and universities that provide shelter to asylum seekers, an increasingly vital service as asylum seekers face escalating attacks from Republican leaders in particular. This would, in essence, accomplish two top conservative priorities: It would strip funding from public schools, or at least destabilize their funding, and it would force schools to refuse to help asylum seekers.

Opponents of the bill have condemned it for its cruelty. Democrats dubbed the legislation the “Scapegoating Not Solutions Act” and the “Shutting Out Students Act.”

“Yesterday, Republicans passed a bill in the House that would take away funding from schools if they temporarily house asylum seekers,” said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) on Thursday. “The GOP is doing what it does best — fearmongering and introducing hateful legislation that promotes bigotry and endangers lives.”

In debate on the bill, Rep. Suzanne Bonamic0i (D-Oregon) said the legislation would “punish public schools and colleges and their students for showing humanity.”

Revoking federal funding from schools would have wide-ranging impacts, affecting programs like Pell Grants and other student aid for higher education, as well as funding for federal disability programs.

The legislation came about after Republicans raised an outcry against an announcement by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, who announced an initiative in May to help identify sites, including schools, that could offer shelter for immigrants. It is not likely to pass the Democratically-controlled Senate.

Republicans claimed their bill is about protecting children but have offered little explanation about what danger children would face if schools were to provide shelters to asylum seekers, while also ignoring that lawmakers are actively endangering migrant children by passing and upholding restrictive immigration laws.

Molinaro claimed that he introduced the bill in part to ensure that lawmakers are “dealing with the migrant crisis in a compassionate way,” and that there is “nothing compassionate” about bussing migrants from the southern border to liberal states, referring to recent, horrifying moves by far right Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, members of Molinaro’s own party.

It is extremely ironic that Molinaro would invoke compassionate immigration policies in promoting his bill that would explicitly force schools to revoke services for asylum seekers.

Democrats pointed out that, if Republicans truly cared about children’s safety, they would support legislation to prevent school shootings, which are reaching record highs as Republicans loosen gun laws.

“When I was home in June, a student said to me, ‘I only have one more week of school, and then it means I got through the whole year without getting shot,’” Bonamici said. “The so-called Schools Not Shelters Act is not a serious solution.”

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