Approved nearly a year ago by state lawmakers and Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, Alabama’s immigration law is considered the toughest in the nation. It is seen as effectively pushing undocumented immigrants from the state by curtailing many of their rights. The law makes it a criminal offense for undocumented immigrants to register a vehicle or rent an apartment, and it cracks down on anyone who employs or houses undocumented immigrants. And the state’s public schools and educators are squarely in the middle of the human fallout it has brought on.
Foley Elementary School in Foley, Ala., began serving immigrants about 15 years ago in a summer program for the children of migrant workers who came to work the sweet-potato and watermelon harvest. For more than a decade, the school—known as escuela amistosa, or the “friendly school”— has been central to the tight-knit immigrant community.
“I’ve told everyone who will listen that this law is wrong and it hurts children,” says William Lawrence, the longtime principal of Foley Elementary, where 20 percent of the 1,200 students are Latino, most of them American-born. “I’m a lifelong Republican, but I can’t stand by and watch as politicians try to hurt good children and families.”
“A child who is in fear cannot learn, and that is what we are dealing with,” says Lawrence, “For the most part, these are American-citizen children whose constitutional rights are under attack by this law,” Lawrence says. “And all children, regardless of their legal status, have the right to come to school free of fear.”
A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.