Court Blocks State From School Immigration Checks
A recent blog of mine from Oct. 9, talked about Alabama’s new immigration law and the impact it was having on children of parents who were illegal immigrants. At its start, this law created so much fear that as many as 2,000 students had stopped attending their public schools, since, under this law, schools are now required to check the immigration status of its students.
On Friday, a federal appeals court sided with the Obama administration, blocking Alabama schools from checking the immigration status of students who enrolled after September 1. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that police cannot charge immigrants who are not able to prove their citizenship.
Alabama’s law was in effect for about three weeks before this recent ruling. During that time, many frightened Hispanics moved away from the state, leaving many businesses understaffed, and schools reported that many Latino students had stopped attending school.
And while this latest ruling has given the Hispanic community hope, it is only temporary; a final decision isn’t expected for months, after judges have time to review more arguments.
In the meantime, the news spread quickly on Spanish-language radio stations, and immigrants in the state are celebrating the judges’ ruling. One such illegal immigrant, who did not want her name revealed for fear of being arrested, said, “When I listened to that, I started crying. I called my friends and said, ‘Listen to the radio.’ We’re all happy.”
While some portions of the original law have been blocked, the judges upheld other aspects of the law: police can check a person’s immigrant status during a traffic stop, courts can’t enforce contracts, like leases, which involve illegal immigrants, and it’s still a felony for an illegal immigrant to do business with the state for basic things, such as getting a driver’s license.
When this law was passed in June, the Obama administration and immigrant advocacy groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the state of Alabama. Late in September, a federal judge upheld most of the law, and the Obama administration and the groups answered by appealing the judge’s decision.
Republicans in Alabama proclaimed the necessity of this law in order to protect the jobs of legal residents in their state. One of the law’s champions, House Speaker Mike Hubbard, praised the panel for maintaining the “most effectual parts” of the law. “We’ve said from the beginning that Alabama will have a strict immigration law and we will enforce it. Alabama will not be a sanctuary state for illegal aliens, and this ruling reinforces that,” he said.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed the measure because he said it was imperative that the jobs of legal residents be protected during this tough economy and high employment. “Unfortunately, by failing to do its job, the federal government has left the problem of dealing with illegal immigration to the states. Alabama needed a tough law against illegal immigration. We now have one. I will continue to fight to see this law upheld,” Bentley said in a statement.
But advocacy groups who have challenged the law remain hopeful that the judges will block the rest of the law, too. Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the ACLU, said, “I think that certainly it’s a better situation today for the people of Alabama than it was yesterday. Obviously we remain concerned about the remainder of the provisions, and we remain confident that we will eventually get the whole scheme blocked.”
Meanwhile, the actual number of Hispanics who have fled the state since this law was passed is not clear at this time, but many of them skipped work this past week in protest of the law, causing operations in several businesses in the state to have to scale down.
Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, voiced particular concern over the requirement for schools to check the immigration status of its students. “We’re hearing a number of reports about increases in bullying that we’re studying,” he said. Perez said the government is trying to determine how many absences and withdrawals are directly linked to the law.
Let me first say that I am not a proponent of illegal immigration, but I am also not a proponent of forcing the children of illegal immigrants who were born in this country and are, therefore, citizens of the United States, to have to suffer for decisions made by their parents. And to make these children go through the humiliation of being “investigated” by their schools seems extremely cruel. So I am very glad that, for now anyway, this portion of Alabama’s tough immigration law has been blocked.
I worry, as Perez does, what impact this law will have in schools. Students are listening to their parents’ discussions regarding this heated topic around the dinner table and will likely adopt their parents’ views. These strong divergent opinions will certainly impact how students will get along in their schools and lead to ostracizing some students based on their ethnicity or perceived illegal status.
Certainly there is a better method for dealing with illegal immigration that does not involve the schools and the population of those schools.
Please, Alabama, get this right. For the sake of the young people whom you serve, find a humane way of dealing with this incredibly volatile issue. Other states will take their lead from you. Be advocates of the legal process, but be cautious of the young charges in your care.