A judge upheld a provision in the Alabama immigration law that
forces public schools to check the immigration status of new
students. Schools are scrambling to determine the impact.
Thursday Alabama became the first state in the nation to require
public schools to check the immigration status of children when they
A judge's ruling Wednesday upheld several portions of Alabama's
tough new immigration law, including the section on public-school
Advocates of the law say it doesn't block enrollment in schools,
but simply enables the state to track the number of illegal-
immigrant students and calculate the costs associated with educating
Opponents argue that in the broader context of the immigration-
enforcement law, the school provision will serve as a barrier for
many families and end up denying innocent children their
constitutional right to a public education.
Civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups are already planning
their appeals, but in the meantime, parents and educators are trying
to sort out exactly how the law will play out in schools.
"This will have an incredibly chilling effect on children and on
parents," says Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty
Law Center, one of the groups challenging the law in court. Coupled
with other parts of the law, "it turns school officials and other
government officials into, kind of, immigration agents, and that's a
terrible message for kids and families."
For example, parts of the law require government officials to
report illegal immigrants, says Ms. Bauer, so "there's a real risk
that the law will be read to require schools to make reports of
undocumented individuals," she says.
But state officials have decried what they call "fear-mongering"
What the law does
Effective Thursday, schools are to check birth certificates only
when a child is enrolling in an Alabama school for the first time.
If officials determine the child isn't in the US lawfully or if a
birth certificate is not presented, they then must ask the parent or
guardian to provide other documentation or sign an affidavit about
the citizenship or immigration status of the student. If that
document doesn't arrive within 30 days, the school records that
child as "enrolled without birth certificate" in the state data
The law doesn't require schools to report students' names when
counting up the number who don't have legal documentation.
"We want to put a stop to the fear-mongering," said Larry Craven,
Alabama's interim superintendent of Education, at a press conference
Thursday afternoon. "No student should be denied enrollment for not
providing a birth certificate."
That message does not seem to be getting through to many
immigrant families, though.
Some illegal-immigrant parents whose children are citizens have
already said they plan to leave, making comments like, "we don't
want them to take away our children," says Dawn DuPree Kelley,
longtime principal of Greenwood Elementary Schools in the Jefferson
County School System.
"We've been having to troubleshoot today to offer encouragement
... and let them know that the best place is to have their child in
school - that's their federal right [and] they are safe in school,"
says Ms. …