Equity & Diversity

Court Rules That Ala. Can’t Check Student Immigration Status

By Lesli A. Maxwell — August 20, 2012 2 min read
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A federal appeals court late today struck down a provision in Alabama’s tough immigration law that required public school officials to check the immigration status of new students.

The rulings from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a key part of the Alabama law, however, and a similar provision in a statute passed in Georgia, which requires local police to ask for proof of citizenship or immigration status from people they stop, according to this Associated Press story. That falls right in line with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld parts of a yet another similar law in Arizona.

Mark Walsh, over at the School Law blog, has a more extensive analysis of the ruling that you should check out.

Several states in the nation have enacted tough immigration laws in recent years, but Alabama’s was the only one to include the schools-related provision and the 11th Circuit had previously blocked that part from being enforced. Educators across Alabama have expressed strong opposition to the law and deep objections to being put in a position to, as they see it, turn away any child who has a right to free public schooling.

The landmark 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe ruled that children are entitled to receive a free public K-12 education in the United States regardless of their immigration status.

The Obama administration—which sued Alabama over the immigration law—also took an aggressive stance in particular on the school-related provision even after the appellate court blocked its enforcement, asking districts with high concentrations of Latino students to collect data on absences and withdrawals. An Alabama-based civil rights group also sued the state over the law.

The federal appellate judges also sided with opponents of the Alabama law on provisions that made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to seek work and for people, such as landlords who rent property, to harbor undocumented immigrants.

I know from spending time with educators in the immigrant-heavy community of Foley, Ala., that this decision will come as partial relief. But because the court upheld the part of the law that allows police to demand documentation when detaining people, school officials will still be worried about how the immigrant families they serve will react.

That provision is what instilled much of the fear among families and prompted them to stop driving their children to school, for example.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.