Alabama immigration law upheld: What effect will it have on children?

Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn of the Northern District of Alabama ruled on key portions of Alabama’s strict new immigration law. Several provisions of the legislation make Alabama’s HB 56 stricter than Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

Alabama Immigration Law Rally

Judge Blackburn blocked several provisions of the law from taking effect, including a prohibition on allowing undocumented immigrants to enroll in college and a ban on helping or harboring undocumented immigrants. However, the District Court failed to block a provision that allows police to stop any “suspicious” person to check their immigration status. The Court also allowed a provision that requires schools to collect information about students’ immigration status:

Judge Blackburn also refused to block the law’s Section 28, the one requiring public schools to “determine whether the student enrolling in public school was born outside the jurisdiction of the United States or is the child of an alien not lawfully present in the United States.”

The provision requires students or their parents to present an original birth certificate at the time of enrollment. For those who cannot present proper documentation, schools are required to assume they are aliens “unlawfully present” in the United States. The measure requires schools to maintain statistics about the numbers of such students.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in its motion seeking to block the Alabama law, said the schools provision “would have a chilling effect on school attendance by children who are aliens or whose parents are aliens.” […]

“For purposes of determining the reach of [Section 28], the court assumes that school officials will not seek to determine the immigration status of parents beyond examination of the child’s birth certificate, and that such information is not included on the birth certificate,” the judge said. “Therefore, Section 28 does not compel school officials to determine the immigration status of a parent of a student.”

Here’s more information on how the law will be implemented by school districts:

The law, signed by Alabama’s Republican governor in June, still gives all students the right to enroll in schools regardless of their immigration status. But if it takes effect, public schools will have to report the status of each student to the state department of education. When doing this, schools will code each child with a “0” or a “1”.

If parents can’t provide a birth certificate or choose not to, they will be sent a letter asking for other documentation regarding their child’s immigration status. They will have 30 days to provide it, after which their child will be labeled a “0.” A memo from the state superintendent said this number can’t be used to deny any student admission to school.

It is likely that the decision will be appealed. But it is unclear what effect the law will have (or already has had) on student attendance. Although Judge Blackburn recognized the Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe, which held that no state may deny a K-12 student the right to a public education regardless of immigration status, parents are apprehensive. The Birmingham News has reported that many of the 120,000 undocumented immigrants in Alabama have already left the state since the law’s passage.

Many questions remained unanswered: What will the state do with the information it receives from school districts about undocumented students and parents? What will happen to natural-born children whose parents are undocumented?

UPDATE (14 Oct 2011): The 11th Court of Appeals temporarily blocked parts of the Alabama immigration law, including portions requiring schools to acquire information about parents’ immigration status. The Court will make a final determination on the law in the next few months, after hearing arguments and reviewing briefs. More coverage at the NY Times.

Alex Hunt

About Alex Hunt

Alex Hunt is a former Yale & Irene Rosenberg Graduate Fellow at the Center for Children, Law & Policy. Alex graduated from the University of Texas in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in government. Before entering law school, he taught middle school math at YES Prep Southwest in Houston with Teach For America. In 2010, he received New Leaders' EPIC Spotlight Teacher Award, a national award for teachers with outstanding student growth. Alex graduated cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in May 2013. During law school, Alex was Casenotes & Comments Editor for the Houston Journal of International Law, interned for both state and federal judges, and served as Vice President of the Health Law Organization (HLO). In addition, Alex has received the Irving J. Weiner Memorial Scholarship Award (for a year of outstanding work in the UH Law Center Legal Clinic), the Napoleon Beazley Defender Award (for outstanding work on behalf of children), the Ann Dinsmore Forman Memorial Child Advocacy Award, the Mont P. Hoyt Memorial Writing Award for an Outstanding Comment on a Topic in International Law, and he was a finalist for Texas Access to Justice's Law Student Pro Bono Award. Alex is currently in private family law practice with the Hunt Law Firm, P.L.L.C. in Katy, Texas.

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