Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Federal Officials Say Alabama’s Immigration Law Hurt Hispanic Students

A U.S. Department of Justice official recently warned the superintendent of Alabama’s public schools that the state’s immigration law has hindered the ability of Latino children to obtain a quality education.

Thomas Perez, the U.S. assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, sent a letter to State Superintendent of Education Thomas Bice on May 1. Perez wrote that the Justice Department investigated attendance data and conducted interviews with students, parents, teachers and administrators that confirmed the department’s concerns.

“They confirm that H.B. 56 diminished access to and quality of education for many of Alabama’s Hispanic children, resulted in missed school days, chilled or prevented the participation of parents in their children’s education, and transformed the climates of some schools into less safe and welcoming spaces for Hispanic students,” he wrote.

The immigration law known as HB 56 that went into effect last September required Alabama schools to check the immigration status of public school students, though it didn’t bar undocumented students from enrolling. A federal judge blocked the piece of the law that required asking children’s status in October.

Perez wrote that an analysis of attendance data concluded that absences of Hispanic students tripled immediately after the law was passed because of fear among immigrant families. The data also showed that between the beginning of the school year and February, about 13.4 percent of the state’s Latino school children withdrew from school–an increase compared with past years.

Although the fear has faded somewhat since that part of the law regarding children’s status was blocked, Perez said the investigation found the legislation has had “continuing and lasting consequences.”

Also alarming, he added that Hispanic children reported that the law hurt their ability to focus on their education. ”Hispanic children reported increased anxiety and diminished concentration in school, deteriorating grades, and increased hostility, bullying and intimidation,” he wrote. “Teachers and administrators reported the detrimental impacts on students, from student absences to precipitous drops in academic engagement and performance.”

The letter reminds the state that the 1982 Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe ensures all students access to the public schools, regardless of immigration status.

Even if you don’t work in Alabama, the U.S. Department of Education raised concerns last year that some districts are not properly enforcing Plyler and have enrollment practices that discourage illegal immigrant children from attending. For example, a district may ask for a birth certificate, but can’t deny enrollment if a foreign certificate is presented. A district also can’t require a social security number.

Have you heard of complaints in your state about enrollment practices? Have you checked your district’s enrollment requirements recently?

Read the letter here.


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