Alabama relents, agrees not to ask educators to check students’ citizenship status

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by Félix Pérez

Alabama educators no longer have to fear being asked to check on the citizenship status of the students under their charge thanks to an agreement struck last week between the state, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups that argued, among other things, that the state’s anti-immigrant law assaulted the legal rights of children and forced them into the shadows of society.

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For many people, the Alabama law, passed in 2011, came to symbolize a chilling wave of legalized immigrant bashing. The law’s requirement pertaining to school staff to verify and report each student’s immigration status during enrollment was put on hold early last year.  School staff members who did not comply with the law were subject to criminal prosecution.

The Alabama Education Association, the National Education Association and the National School Boards Association, in a joint amicus brief filed in November 2011, argued the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it “conflicts with the constitutional duty of schools and their employees under Plyler [a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a state statute denying funding for education to undocumented immigrant children].”

AL immig settlement 2
Alabama middle school students

The education groups reasoned the harsh law “conflicts with school employees‘ legal obligation under state law to supervise and protect the students entrusted to their care. School administrators and teachers are concerned that this provision . . . will burden educators and administrators with the task of enforcing immigration laws.”

Last week’s agreement [Editor’s Note: a PDF file], which must be approved by the trial court, effectively guts what was the harshest anti-immigrant law in the country.

High school math teacher and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, at the time the amicus brief was filed, said in a statement:

Our public schools were created with the promise that all students who walk through their doors would be educated, regardless of the child’s national origin or the economic status of the parents. . . The message ‘You’re not welcome here’ harks back to another period in history when children were denied the right to an education – a period America should never have to revisit. Nobody wins when a state law pushes children out of our public schools and into the shadows of society.

Sam Brooke, Southern Poverty Law Center senior staff attorney, said of the agreement, “We warned the legislature when they were debating HB 56 that if they passed this draconian law, we would sue in court and win. That we have done. Now it is time for our state lawmakers to repeal the remnants of HB 56, and for our congressional delegation to support meaningful immigration reform that will fix our broken system.”

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