Alabama Immigration Law Draws More Federal Scrutiny

Last Updated: November 29, 2011

This article appeared in the November 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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In a letter to school superintendents in Alabama, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) has reminded them of the responsibility of schools to ensure that no students experience barriers to accessing public education. The letter also asked for detailed statistics about English Language Learning (ELL) students.

The DOJ is seeking enrollment numbers as well as other information that could reveal how many students have missed school or left school completely in the wake of the implementation of Alabama’s new immigration law, H.B. 56. Perez said in the letter that the Alabama statute could be discouraging students’ participation, a violation of federal law. The Obama administration, also through the DOJ, has filed a legal challenge to the Alabama law as it did against similar laws in Arizona and South Carolina.

For detailed coverage and background on H.B. 56, see last month’s RPM.

Opponents of H.B. 56 have compared its effects to the discriminatory policies in place through the 1960’s and have compared Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to former Alabama Governor George Wallace. Strange, after hearing about the information request, responded to Perez that he wanted proof of DOJ’s authority over the school districts and that he would “assume you have none, and will proceed accordingly.” In his response, Perez noted that the Department had received numerous complaints about H.B. 56 and cited federal civil rights law that gives DOJ enforcement authority. So far, this conflict remains at a stalemate, and some observers have speculated that a second lawsuit could follow against Alabama.

Meanwhile, three U.S. Senators have announced that they plan to introduce legislation to prevent the administration from suing states over their immigration laws.

Read more:

National analysis of the law:

Local and national coverage of the DOJ investigation:

Read the DOJ letter here:

Read more from the November 2011 Rural Policy Matters.