The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Tuesday issued a letter [text] to each school district in Alabama to serve as a reminder that they must provide equal access to public education for all children, regardless of their immigration status. The letter, authored by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez [official website], was sent because of the potential of the state's controversial immigration law [HB 56 text; JURIST news archive] to "chill or discourage student participation in, or lead to the exclusion of school-age children from, public education programs based on their or their parents' race, national origin, or actual or perceived immigration status." Such an effect may constitute a violation of the federal law prohibiting discrimination against public school students on the basis of race, color or national origin. As a result, the DOJ is requesting that each district submit a list of all enrolled students as well as the number and percentage of students who have withdrawn from school during the current academic year and their race, national origin and English Language Learner (ELL) status. The districts have until November 14 to comply with the DOJ requests.
Last month, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] temporarily blocked [JURIST report] portions of the law, including Section 28, which requires immigration status checks of public school students, and Section 10, which makes it a misdemeanor for an illegal resident not to have immigration papers. The ruling came in response to a motion filed [JURIST report] by the DOJ and a coalition of immigrants rights groups after a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official websites] twice refused to block the law [JURIST report] from taking effect. The DOJ argues that the "state regime contravenes the federal government's exclusive authority over immigration." Alabama state officials have defended the law [JURIST report] and argue that the state law is not preempted by federal immigration law and that the text reflects a "spirit of cooperation with the federal government." The state officials point out that the law contains mechanisms safeguarding against unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin and allegations suggesting provisions of the law would deter students from enrolling in school are speculative.