I am getting a lot of e-mails on Alabama’s new immigration law because of its implications for Georgia schools. The new law mandates that Alabama public schools collect information on the immigration status of students and their parents when they enroll, but does not deny the kids access to school.
The law had been delayed because of legal challenges, but U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn decreed last week that major portions of the law could to go into effect, setting off a national furor in immigration policy.
But closer to home, there are practical questions.
A Georgia teacher on the Alabama line sent me this note after reading news stories that immigrant families may leave Alabama because of the law and fears for their children’s education: “I have to wonder where they will go and, since we are next door neighbors so to speak, whether it will have any impact on Hispanic enrollments in Georgia’s schools. I’m hesitant to start this discussion on the blog, due to the palpable dislike of immigrants posted by some here. Yet, I believe the potential implications of this exodus deserves consideration.”
The AP reported:
Education officials say scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from classes or kept them home last week, afraid that sending the kids to school would draw attention from authorities.Hispanic students have started vanishing from Alabama public schools in the wake of a court ruling that upheld the state’s tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration. There are no precise statewide numbers. But several districts with large immigrant enrollments — from small towns to large urban districts — reported a sudden exodus of children of Hispanic parents, some of whom told officials they would leave the state to avoid trouble with the law, which requires schools to check students’ immigration status. The anxiety has become so intense that the superintendent in one of the state’s largest cities, Huntsville, went on a Spanish-language television show Thursday to try to calm widespread worries.
“In the case of this law, our students do not have anything to fear, ” Casey Wardynski said in halting Spanish. He urged families to send students to class and explained that the state is only trying to compile statistics. Police, he insisted, were not getting involved in schools.
In Montgomery County, more than 200 Hispanic students were absent the morning after the judge’s Wednesday ruling. A handful withdrew. In tiny Albertville, 35 students withdrew in one day. And about 20 students in Shelby County, in suburban Birmingham, either withdrew or told teachers they were leaving.
On its editorial pages, The New York Times wrote, “That rule is part of the law’s sweeping attempt to curtail the rights and complicate the lives of people without papers, making them unable to enter contracts, find jobs, rent homes or access government services. In other words, to be isolated, unemployable, poor, defenseless and uneducated. The education crackdown is particularly senseless and unconstitutional. In 1982, the Supreme Court found that all children living in the United States have the right to a public education, whatever their immigration status. The justices’ reasoning was shaped not by compassion but practicality: it does the country no good to perpetuate an uneducated underclass. Officials in Alabama — some well meaning, others less so — insisted that nothing in the new law is intended to deny children an education. School districts, they noted, are supposed to collect only numbers of children without papers, not names.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog