The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division, in a letter dated May 1, 2012, expressed concern to Alabama’s Superintendent of Education over the impact the state’s controversial immigration law, HB 56, has had on Hispanic children’s school attendance and overall educational opportunities. HB 56, which Alabama’s Legislature passed in June 2011, has generated much controversy and multiple legal challenges. Much of the controversy comes from the law’s insertion of immigration enforcement into numerous aspects of Alabamans’ daily lives and its focus on people whom law enforcement suspects, on sight, of being undocumented. Federal courts have blocked some portions of the law, and the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the bill’s constitutionality later this year. In the meantime, the DOJ is investigating how the law has affected immigrant populations and populations often associated with immigrants, particularly Hispanic communities. The dispute demonstrates how immigration reform efforts can have far-reaching consequences.
The Alabama immigration law requires law enforcement to inquire about a person’s immigration status if, in the course of a lawful stop, the officer has reason to suspect that the person might be undocumented. The law does not necessarily provide guidance on what constitutes “reasonable suspicion,” so critics contend that this is an invitation to profiling of Hispanic Alabama residents, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. One part of the law struck down by a federal appeals court, identified as § 28, would have required public schools to gather data on their students; immigration status. That section was only in effect between September 29 and October 14, 2011. A 1982 Supreme Court case guarantees children the right to attend school, but the law would have required them to disclose immigration information to the school, who would then turn it over to state officials.