Several disappointed researchers and educators asked me to write about the decision of the American Education Research Association to move its 2013 conference from Atlanta to San Francisco because of our state’s new immigration law, House Bill 87.
In passing the controversial bill last year, Georgia became one of three states to empower police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects. HB 87 — which is partly patterned after Arizona’s law — also sets new hiring requirements for employers and penalizes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants here. (Read this AJC story for background on the bill.)
The AERA conference, one of the most prestigious education forums in the nation, typically attracts 14,000 or 15,000 educators.
In the letter announcing the decision, the AERA executive board wrote:
The situation leading to relocation was brought about by the passage on May 13, 2011 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 (Georgia HB87). This difficult decision was reached by the Executive Board after several months of thoughtful discussion, extensive review of any potential fiscal consequences, and consideration of the AERA’s educational mission by the Council and Executive Board.
As our members know, the American Educational Research Association is dedicated to advancing knowledge about education, encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education, and promoting the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. As part of this overall mission, the Association’s Social Justice Mission Statement emphasizes that all AERA members and participants in AERA activities such as the Annual Meeting must have open access and opportunity to partake in them. The Guidelines for AERA Position Taking make clear the appropriateness of the Association operating its own function in accord with the values of equity, equality, and transparency. Among the most important of these functions is convening meetings and selecting sites for them.
Unfortunately, Georgia has passed legislation pertaining to immigration that seriously compromises the viability of AERA to hold a conference where all its members will be welcome. The new law has significant educational consequences for an important but vulnerable student population. Undocumented children are placed at risk insofar as parents will be afraid of enrolling their children in school.
The law also suggests that educators who have routine interactions with, and/or help undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States could be guilty of committing a crime. Similar legislation in other states has led to bullying in schools. Our own members could plausibly face legal challenges to their presence if they were to attend the conference in Atlanta. Some AERA members have pointed out that they would not participate in a conference in Atlanta where individuals from Mexico, Haiti, and other countries could be racially profiled and harassed. Although this legislation may be overturned, there is no sense of when a definitive ruling will be made.
In an email, one educator said:
Losses to Atlanta and the Georgia economy might be roughly estimated as:
1. $25 to 30 million in initial convention revenue
2. $20 to 50 million additional economic impact due to the financial “multiplier effect” from the participants’ convention and tourism money spent here
3. Permanent harm to the improvement of Georgia’s public school system that this conference might have produced.Georgia educators cannot use state money for out-of-state travel (even for professional learning) and our education leaders will be forever denied access to this, the most prestigious forum on education in the world.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog