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By Wendy Sefsaf

While eyes remain fixed on the Alabama legislature’s effort to revise their immigration enforcement law, HB 56, the U.S. Department of Justice informed state officials in a letter last week that the state’s immigration law has resulted in significantly higher absence rates among Latino students. According to the letter, more than 13 percent of Latino schoolchildren in Alabama withdrew from classes between the start of the school year and February 2012. While the Department’s investigation is still ongoing, the letter said Alabama could lose federal funding and face additional litigation if it fails to revoke a provision of HB 56 that requires administrators to determine the immigration status of newly enrolling students.

The release of the letter, which was sent by DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to the State Superintendent of Education, represents the latest exchange in an ongoing dispute over the impact of HB 56 on public education. The Civil Rights Division investigates any possible discrimination against children in public schools based on race, sex, religion, color and national origin. After HB 56 was enacted, the DOJ asked the Superintendent to provide data on school enrollment and absenteeism to determine if children were being negatively impacted by the law. While the Alabama’s Attorney General initially questioned the DOJ’s authority to request such data, the state eventually conceded.

According to the letter, the state’s own data, in addition to interviews with educators in the state, led the DOJ to some concerning conclusions on the state of public education in Alabama. Thomas Perez, the head of the Department’s Civil Rights Division, writes:

“With respect to withdrawals, the data show that compared with prior school years, the rates of total withdrawals of Hispanic children substantially increased. The data reflect that between the start of the school year and February 2012, 13.4 percent of Alabama’s Hispanic schoolchildren withdrew from school.”

Although the education provision of HB 56, Section 28, was enjoined by the courts soon after it went into effect, the DOJ letter said that it continued to have a chilling effect on the Hispanic community in Alabama. Interviews with state educators reveal that children suffered heightened anxiety and fear as a result of the law. Some students even reported being required to attend assemblies based on their actual or perceived national origin or immigration status.

Meanwhile, in the Alabama statehouse this week, a protracted battle is raging over how to amend HB 56. While pro-immigrant groups believe a total repeal of Section 28 is the only way to address the DOJ’s concerns, lighter tweaks are being suggested. One proposal replaces mandatory checks of incoming students’ immigration status with a requirement that the Alabama Department of Education compile an annual report of the fiscal impacts of educating children of unauthorized immigrants.

Yet, how the state would determine the impact without asking students about their immigration status, or that of their parents, remains unclear. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how the state could assess immigration status of kids and parents without both violating law and creating a chilling affect that drives children and parents away from school.

If Alabama leaves Section 28 as is, the provision would remain enjoined pending a final decision from the federal appeals court in Atlanta, which has said it will not issue a decision until after the Supreme Court renders its ruling in Arizona v. United States, the case testing the legality of SB 1070.

The landmark Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe guarantees all children in the United States have access to public education regardless of their immigration status. Given the evidence outlined in the DOJ letter, it appears Alabama has already crossed the legal line. While the future of Section 28 remains unclear, what is evident today is that the state of Alabama will remain liable for potential violations of civil rights law.

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Comment Preferences

  •  there's always more than one way (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Olympia, Miggles, luckylizard

    to fight  racism.   Good for the DOJ to push this issue.   Given the conservative bent of SCOTUS and the 11th Circuit, it may not work, but at least they are pursuing the issue on grounds that should work.

  •  It's minimally encouraging that the DOJ would (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Miggles, luckylizard

    intervene in this way.  Now if Holder would just find the courage to go after the bankers rather than wait for the statute of limitations to kick in I'd be impressed.  As for Alabama's legislature, well, some folks just refuse to be enlightened.

    Romney went to France instead of serving in our military, got rich chop-shopping US businesses and eliminating US jobs, off-shored his money in the Cayman Island"s, and now tells us to "Believe in America."

    by judyms9 on Thu May 10, 2012 at 08:17:16 AM PDT

  •  Education is the foundation of a strong (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Miggles, luckylizard

    nation.  Great that the Obama administration is willing to 'walk the walk' and not just 'talk the talk' as to the importance of educating our youth.  There is so much left to do we can only work hard to re-elect this President so that much more can be done.

    Obama/Biden 2012

  •  Is it time yet for all of us to affix a yellow (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    star to our clothing metaphorically?    Should we ask all students to claim "hispanic" on public school forms in solidarity to protect their fellow students' human rights ?

    One country resisted Nazi laws to identify Jews to more easily wedge them  away from equal rights and into slavery/death camps by "following" law to wear Jewish star --- but all the non Jews wore them too.  

    Then get started wearing the Nazi ruled "pink triangle" to church and school to support equal rights for gay citizens.

    I know that fighting against hate is hard --- but if we want to end bullying --- we need to "speak" against these adult bullies who push us to get busy hating each other.

    Like our continental soldiers -  we "hang together" in solidarity or we hang separately as cowed subjects of economic royals.        

    De fund + de bunk = de EXIT--->>>>>

    by Neon Mama on Thu May 10, 2012 at 08:47:22 AM PDT

  •  Not sure the DOJ has much of a case here. (0+ / 0-)

    The law in Plyler v. Doe was a much more clear bar on educating illegal aliens, not just a law that had the side effect of making educating illegal aliens more difficult.

    Plyler v. Doe would almost certainly go 5-4 the other direction if revisited by the current court.

    •  Another reason to be pissed off (0+ / 0-)

      at the Democrats who sat around with their thumbs up their asses while our present Court was assembled from right wing Opus Dei Catholic extremists . . .

      I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. ~Thomas Jefferson

      by bobdevo on Thu May 10, 2012 at 09:54:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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