Published Online: October 4, 2011
Published in Print: October 5, 2011, as Judge Requires Ala. Schools to Enforce Immigration Law

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Judge Requires Ala. Schools to Enforce Immigration Law

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A federal judge has declined to block Alabama’s controversial new immigration rules that require schools to determine the citizenship status of students.

The ruling came in a lawsuit challenging the broad state law affecting unauthorized immigrants in employment, housing, contracts, and education.

U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Blackburn of Birmingham, Ala., granted the Obama administration’s request to block several of the law’s provisions, including one making it illegal under state law for unauthorized immigrants to apply for or solicit work.

However, she declined to block several other provisions, including the law’s Section 28, which requires public schools to “determine whether the student enrolling in public school was born outside the jurisdiction of the United States or is the child of an alien not lawfully present in the United States.”

Under that provision, students or their parents must present an original birth certificate at the time of enrollment. For those who cannot present proper documentation, schools are required to assume they are “unlawfully present” in the United States. The measure requires schools to maintain statistics about the numbers of such students.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in its motion seeking to block the Alabama law, argued that the schools provision “would have a chilling effect on school attendance by children who are aliens or whose parents are aliens.”

The department cited Plyler v. Doe, the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held a state may not deny access to a basic public education to any child, whether that child is present in the country legally or not. The department noted that the U.S. departments of Justice and Education had sent a “dear colleague” letter to schools earlier this year reminding them of their obligation to enroll children regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

In her opinion in United States v. Alabama, Judge Blackburn noted that information about a parent’s immigration status is not usually included on an Alabama birth certificate, or on birth certificates from other states or countries.

"For purposes of determining the reach of [Section 28], the court assumes that school officials will not seek to determine the immigration status of parents beyond examination of the child's birth certificate, and that such information is not included on the birth certificate," the judge said. "Therefore, Section 28 does not compel school officials to determine the immigration status of a parent of a student."

Vol. 31, Issue 06, Page 4

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