Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley speaks before signing into law what critics… (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery…)
This month Alabama enacted the harshest anti-immigration legislation in the nation, surpassing even Arizona's controversial efforts to drive out illegal immigrants.
The new law requires police to check the immigration status of those they stop, bars undocumented immigrants from receiving public benefits or even enrolling in state colleges, and makes it a crime to give a ride to an illegal immigrant. At least four other states have adopted similar measures. But Alabama's law goes a step further. It requires public schools to determine the immigration status of their students and report the number of those who are here illegally to state officials.
Asking students to reveal that they or their parents are undocumented isn't the same as barring them from attending classes, which would be patently illegal. The result, however, will not be all that different. Many parents will opt to pull their children out of school rather than risk disclosing their status and being arrested.
We understand that states, especially those along the border with Mexico, are frustrated by the government's apparent indifference to a broken immigration system. That has spurred states to adopt their own fixes. But it's hard to fathom how lawmakers could think that discouraging children from going to school is a sensible solution.
Like Arizona's SB 1070, Alabama's cruel new law will almost certainly face legal challenges because it encroaches on the federal government's lone authority to regulate immigration. And it will certainly invite scrutiny from the Department of Justice, which last month warned public school districts that it won't tolerate any attempt to get around Plyler vs. Doe, the 1982 Supreme Court decision that made it illegal for states to deny any child a public education regardless of his or her immigration status.
The law seems particularly bizarre because illegal immigrants are estimated to account for just over 2% of the population in Alabama. But that should serve as a warning to Washington that the issue of immigration is now a nationwide concern, no longer limited to the West and Southwest. President Obama and Congress have failed to tackle comprehensive immigration reform, a difficult issue that continues to divide voters. But ignoring it won't make the problem disappear. Instead, it will continue to push more states to pass draconian measures that put children in the crossfire of a political battle. And that is unacceptable.