Although the law purports to collect statistics only, it is having a strong intimidating effect. In fact, in an early analysis of the original law, the ACLU had pointed out “that deterring children from school was one of HB 56’s motivating purposes. For example, HB 56’s sponsor, Rep. Micky Hammon, described the bill as motivated by the costs of ‘educat[ing] the children of illegal immigrants,’ and predicted that enforcing HB 56 will result in ‘cost savings for this state.’” (Go to http://www.aclu.org/ for “Preliminary Analysis of HB 56 Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act”)
The bill does indeed seem to have this effect of driving children away from the public schools even if it doesn’t require citizenship for enrollment in its schools. In fact, as far back as 1982 in a landmark case, Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not deny access to a free public education to children on the basis of their immigrant status. Despite the fact that this case was decided almost thirty years ago, the U.S. Department of Education had to recently remind school districts in a letter released on May 10, 2011 that expressed concerns that some districts were discouraging undocumented children from enrolling in their schools. At the same time, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has been hearing several complaints.
On September 28th, the N.Y.Times reported that most of the new Alabama law that had been challenged by the Obama administration and civil rights groups was upheld by Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn of the Federal District Court in Birmingham. While blocking the provision that would have barred illegal immigrants from enrolling in or attending public universities, she did uphold the section that requires elementary and secondary schools to determine the immigration status of newly enrolled students.
The civil rights groups challenged this last section on the ground that it would unlawfully deter students from enrolling in school, even if it did not explicitly allow schools to turn students away. The judge dismissed their challenge for lack of standing, though she did not rule on the argument’s merits.The Obama administration has announced that it will be appealing the ruling and has filed court documents on Friday. We will continue to keep readers informed of future coverage of the case and its consequences.