A compromise for volunteers, CMS

There are no easy answers to illegal immigration issues, be they big or small, national or local. So a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools committee should be applauded for its thoughtful solution to a delicate problem – how to let undocumented parents volunteer at schools without compromising the district’s policy on background checks.

That policy, for now, requires that all prospective volunteers provide CMS with a driver’s license and Social Security number for background checks. Undocumented immigrants don’t have either, and although they are allowed to meet with teachers and visit for lunch, they cannot help out with many student activities.

Months of meetings on the issue brought little progress. Immigrant advocates wanted CMS to accept passports and fingerprints for background checks, and they suspected CMS was resisting because of the costs of fingerprinting. Expense may have been a factor, but a substantial hangup for CMS was Social Security numbers, which are needed for more precise local background checks that complement the national database used in fingerprint and passport checks.

As we said in this space last month, CMS was right not to change its policy at the expense of student safety. But we also encouraged a solution that could provide for more volunteering, and that’s what the committee has proposed.

The compromise: Allow passports and consulate IDs as proof of parent identity, plus require a criminal background check before allowing parents to participate in activities under the supervision of CMS employees. As before, only parents who submit a Social Security number and North Carolina ID would be allowed unsupervised access to children for activities such as tutoring or field trips.

Of course, not everyone will be happy with the proposal.

Some will not want any allowances made for people here illegally, even if our classrooms and students benefit when more parents are engaged in school activities.

Others will think the compromise is still too punitive, and that undocumented parents should be treated as other parents who want to participate in their children’s education. But allowing volunteers without a Social Security number would be granting special access, not equal access, unless the district stopped asking all volunteers for Social Security numbers. We don’t think that’s a good idea, no matter what other school districts might do.

Which brings us back to the core problem with illegal immigration: Until our leaders in Washington pass comprehensive immigration reform, there will be an inescapable tension between immigration laws and the reality that there are millions already here, living productively among us. There will be no easy answers.

For now, a CMS committee has come up with a reasonable response to a hard question. We hope Superintendent Heath Morrison can accept or improve upon it in that same spirit.