A provision in Alabama’s new immigration law that requires schools to collect citizenship information on undocumented children is making some education officials uneasy.
The legislation, signed by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley last week, includes a provision that requires public schools to determine the citizenship of students enrolling in the school, either by confirmation of a birth certificate or of documents establishing the citizenship or immigration status of the child.
Sen. Scott Beason, a Republican and a sponsor of the bill, said the section is designed to gather information on the number of undocumented children in public schools and the price of educating them. But school officials worry that it may violate federal law.
The U.S. departments of Education and Justice warned schools nationwide in a letter last month against “student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage” the enrollment of undocumented students based on the child’s or parents’ immigration status.
Louie Fryer, the attendance coordinator for the Elmore County, Ala., public schools, said asking for papers would effectively discourage enrollment. “Once you start asking that question, you get to the point where you’re tacitly trying to deny access to school,” he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that undocumented people could not be denied public education based on their immigration status. The case, Plyler v. Doe, involved a Texas law that denied money for the education of undocumented children and a school district that tried to charge children without documentation to attend public school. The court ruled that the laws were “directed against children” and violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In the new Alabama law, primary school education and secondary school education are listed as public benefits for which residency verification is not required, but, at the same time, schools are mandated to determine the citizenship status of students.
The legislation requires school boards to submit citizenship data to the state board of education, which must compile the data into an annual report to the legislature that analyzes the effects or expected effects of the presence of undocumented students on those “who are citizens of the United States residing in Alabama.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 15, 2011 edition of Education Week as Education Officials Uneasy About Immigration Law