The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice holds a protest in Montgomery… (Lloyd Gallman / Montgomery…)
Even as the Supreme Court is deciding what to do about Arizona’s tough law on illegal immigration, the Justice Department has warned Alabama that its law could have “continuing and lasting” consequences for Latino children.
In a letter to Alabama education officials released this week, the Justice Department warns of the harmful effect of Alabama’s law, known as HB 56. The letter also noted that the Justice Department is charged with enforcing laws that bar “discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin” and helping those for whom English is not a native language.
HB 56 has “diminished access to and quality of education for many of Alabama's Hispanic children, resulted in missed school days, chilled or prevented the participation of parents in their children's education, and transformed the climates of some schools into less safe and welcoming spaces for Hispanic children,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, wrote to Alabama schools Supt. Thomas R. Bice.
The letter is dated May 1 and was released Thursday in Alabama.
Federal courts have prevented some parts of the law from going into effect, including the principal section dealing with education. Under the law, signed on June 9, 2011, Alabama officials are required to collect information on the immigration status of children in public school. The law does not prevent the children from attending classes, a right already upheld by the Supreme Court in a case dating from 1982.
But even with part of the law on hold, Perez argued that there had already been negative effects, pointing to data the state provided the federal government on April 4.
According to the Justice Department, “Hispanic students' absence rates tripled while absence rates for other groups of students remained virtually flat.” The rate “of total withdrawals of Hispanic children substantially increased,” with 13.4% of such children dropping out by February since the beginning of the school year, Perez wrote.
In addition, absences “by Hispanic students receiving ELL [English language learner] services rose significantly, with the result that hundreds of students failed to receive the educational services to which they are legally entitled,” Perez wrote.
Alabama officials have stood by their law despite protests, demonstrations and the legal battles. Supporters of the law dismissed the latest letter.
“The Department of Justice has already made it clear they're on the side of illegal immigration,” state Sen. Scott Beason, a Republican from Gardendale, told the Montgomery Advertiser. “Anything they say or do to try to bully the state of Alabama or other states across the country does not surprise me at all.”
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