MINUTEMEN EXPLAINED. The New York Times has inadvertently explained the recent resurgence in xenophobia. The explanations that I gleaned from their big story on immigration today are: 1) there are too many retirees with nothing better to do, and 2) there are too many suburbanites not used to diversity and allergic to the common good. Both these qualities were perfectly captured in the story's leading man on the street, Patrick Nicolosi of Elmont, New York.

When reading profiles of the Minutemen and such, I am constantly struck by the high proportion of retirees among them. In this piece Nicolosi, 49, who retired prematurely from his delivery truck driving job, tsk-tsks as he sees two immigrant children board a local school bus. Lacking gainful employment to occupy his time, he has the energy to get worked up over this, and some of his neighbors think him a busybody because of that. Furthermore, since he lives in the suburbs, where schools are heavily financed by property taxes, the cost-burden equation of immigration is shifted. In cities, it doesn't create the same student-to-funding imbalance in local public schools when immigrants crowd small dwellings or illegally rent parts of houses. The revenue sources for students come from income taxes -- which many immigrants pay with fake social security numbers -- as well as property taxes. In the suburbs, however, more students per dwelling means fewer dollars per student.

Even so, Mr. Nicolosi betrays an all-too-common unhealthy suburban American attitude when he vents:

"Two children are in school, and one is handicapped � that's $10,000 for elementary school, $100,000 a year for special education," he said. "Why am I paying taxes to support that house?"

That kind of selfish mentality -- our public schools are only for rich, healthy students -- is lamentably common in suburbia. Both that, and the local property tax funding structure that expresses and reinforces it, need to be changed.

--Ben Adler

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