Alabama Governor Robert Bentley proudly called the state’s new immigration law the “strongest immigration law in the country,” but some say it goes too far. The law, signed by the governor, a Republican, in June and currently being challenged in court, still gives all students the right to enroll in schools regardless of their immigration status. But now public schools are required to report the status of each student to the state department of education. When doing this, schools will code each child a “0" or a “1".
Using a flow chart sent out in a memorandum by the Alabama state superintendent, schools will determine how to code each child. The law, though, does not go into effect until Sept. 1, so most students will be exempt from it until the following school year, said Malissa Valdes, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Education, because school starts there in August.
Those students coming into the state’s schools after Sept. 1 will be asked to provide their original birth certificate or a certified copy of it. If parents can’t provide a birth certificate or choose not to, they will be sent a letter asking for supplemental documentation regarding the child’s immigration status. They will have a 30-day window to provide the documentation, after which their child will be labeled a “0" in the system. This number, the superintendent’s memorandum says, cannot be used to deny any student admission to school.
According to an Associated Press article the numbers will also be used to help generate a report at the end of each year to determine the costs of educating undocumented students.
The complaint drawn up by the plaintiffs for the class action challenging the law, HB 56, states that the law will deter immigrant parents from enrolling their children, despite a child’s own immigration status, and it will also keep those with proper identification from attending public colleges or universities in the state.
Under the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, all children have the right to a free K-12 education in this country regardless of their immigration status.
Esayas Haile is one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit. A recent refugee from Eritrea, Haile is worried the new law will prevent him from enrolling in the community college this fall where he plans to continue taking classes to learn English. Matt Webster, another plaintiff, also worries about the two sons he and his wife are going through the process of adopting. The boys were already in the country when their biological mother passed away, and they are now under the guardianship of the Websters. Now, the lawsuit contends, he will be illegally transporting the children until the adoption is final. The court document says Webster is also concerned about the implications of disclosing his children’s immigration status.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.