Alabama Schools Chilly Places for Immigrants, Notwithstanding Weather

COMMENTARY | It’s not the weather than makes the Alabama schools too chilling for immigrant children this season. It’s a new immigration law requiring parents to document citizenship or lack thereof when enrolling their children in public school.

With a judge upholding the state’s right to require verification of citizenship status Thursday, Hispanic students fled the schools in droves, according to media reports. Supporters and opponents of the law can bicker over the true intentions behind it, but the people affected by it define its effects. They did so this week in keeping their children away from the school bureaucracy.

There’s nothing to fear, school officials keep saying. But take a close look at what they’re asking for and their assurances don’t ring true. To enroll in an Alabama school, a family must now provide:

* A birth certificate documenting a child’s place of birth;

* In the absence of a birth certificate, a signed, sworn statement providing the place of birth.

But that’s not all. The failure to provide documentation results in the recording of the child as an illegal alien.

This law can’t fulfill its purpose of documenting the undocumented because it relies on faulty methodology. The assumption that anyone failing to supply proof of citizenship is an illegal alien is likely to grossly inflate the number of illegal aliens reported to be attending school. Language and cultural barriers are two likely reasons Hispanic families might not provided documentation, even if their children are in the country legally.

The fact children might be legal while one or both parents isn’t is another wrinkle. But might the over-counting inevitably resulting from presumption of illegal states be just what the anti-illegal alien movement wants? It’s understandable people would question the motives behind a law so obviously biased.

Alabama’s law also requires illegal aliens to incriminate themselves. In the media, the schools promise that parent answers won’t be used to support deportation efforts, but that’s not exactly what the law says. Under federal law, a state can’t refuse this information to Homeland Security and Alabama expressly permits the information to be used for purposes consistent with federal law.

We won’t use it against you is also today’s answer. What happens next year or the year after when Alabama looks at its inflated count and decides that the cost of educating a slew of illegal immigrants is prohibitive? The Supreme Court has already spoken on the issue of kicking undocumented aliens out of public schools in Plyler v. Doe.

Preservation of a state’s limited education budget for lawful students isn’t sufficient justification, so Alabama would have to show a substantial state interest warranting exclusion of undocumented alien children from its schools to withstand a constitutional challenge. How much easier to pull out those incriminating documents and turn them over to police or immigration authorities. To do that would require a confidentiality waiver from the State Attorney General, but in a political climate hostile to immigrants, how hard would that be to obtain?

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