Policy Brief

Immigration Law: Aftershocks in Ala.

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Alabama schools are working to weather spikes in absenteeism among Latino students and to support worried families as the state’s controversial new immigration law—including a provision that requires schools to collect data on students’ immigration status—moves through a series of appeals.

The latest development in continued wrangling over the law came Oct. 14, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta issued a preliminary injunction blocking two components of the law, including the schools provision, not struck down by a federal judge in Alabama last month. The constitutionality of the entire statute is still to be determined by the Alabama federal court; hearings are to begin within two months.

Interim state Superintendent Larry Craven issued a statement saying that schools would revert to enrollment procedures in place before Sept. 29, when Judge Sharon L. Blackwell had ruled that the temporarily-barred schools provision could go into effect.

Alabama schools saw increased absences in the days after the first federal court ruling allowing the reporting requirement to go into effect, and another increase Oct. 11 as Hispanics statewide protested the law. In all, 6.7 percent of the state’s 34,000 Hispanic students were absent on Sept. 30, up from an average absentee rate of 3 percent to 4 percent for all student groups; about 15 percent of Hispanic students were absent on Oct. 11.

Schools had been encouraging families to send children to school, explaining that information collected by schools under the law would not be used against them. That campaign may have had some success: according to Malissa Valdes, a spokeswoman for the state education department, statewide, schools saw a more normal absentee rate after the initial spike and again after the boycott.

But while the data-collection provision is on hold, civil rights groups and schools say other elements that remain in effect, such as one that prohibits undocumented immigrants from doing business with the state, may have prompted anxious families to officially withdraw their children from school. As of late last week, many schools still had not reported the number of students who have withdrawn from school, according to Ms. Valdes.

Vol. 31, Issue 09, Page 16

Published in Print: October 26, 2011, as Immigration Law: Aftershocks in Ala.
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