A letter from the U.S Justice Department claims Alabama's immigration law enacted last year has affected Hispanic students attending public schools in the state. The letter contends absenteeism among Hispanic students tripled following the implementation of HB-56, the bill clamping down on illegal immigrants. Generally, the measure approved by lawmakers is considered the toughest in the country.
The letter, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez, also contends the number of Hispanic pupils withdrawing from classes has increased over 13 percent.
Perez, in the correspondence, said many students feel unwelcome because of the new immigration law. That, he asserts, is despite over 98% of pupils attending public schools in Alabama being U.S. citizens or legal residents. Many students, according to Perez, dropped out or withdrew from school because of fear regarding the immigration law.
The letter, addressed to State Superintendent of Education Dr. Thomas Bice and dated May 1, comes about six months after information was requested from schools in the state. Federal law requires all children to have the same access to an education. The Justice Department document cited a 1982 case (Plyler vs. Roe) as the basis for its assertion.
A portion of Alabama's immigration law related to equal opportunity for students was blocked by a Federal court last October. However, Perez contends other portions of the law are also a concern for the Department of Justice as it relates to equal opportunities for students.
It's not the first time Perez has raised concerns about the effect of HB-56 on schools in Alabama. The DOJ sent a letter on or about November 1 expressing its feelings.
"It has come to our attention that the requirements of Alabama's H.B. 56 may chill or discourage student participation in, or lead to the exclusion of school-age children from, public education programs based on their or their parents' race, national origin, or actual or perceived immigration status, or based on their homeless or foster care status and consequent lack of documentation."
In the latest correspondence, Perez offered to work with Alabama education officials on the matter.