In its relentless quest to prevent state and local officials from enforcing immigration laws, the Department of Justice (DOJ) last week sent another letter of intimidation to the Alabama State Department of Education. In the letter, Civil Rights Division chief Thomas Perez drops a thinly veiled threat of litigation to persuade Alabama officials to back away from its immigration enforcement law, HB 56, and specifically the provision that requires schools to collect immigration data on its students.
To-date, Perez writes, the DOJ investigation shows that “H.B. 56 has had significant and measurable impacts on Alabama’s school children.” These impacts, Perez states, have weighed most heavily on Hispanic and English language learner students.
Perez states these findings are based on local school data and anecdotal evidence. The local school data, which Perez says raises “significant concern,” shows that between the start of the school year and February 2012, 13.4 percent of Alabama’s Hispanic schoolchildren withdrew from school. Remarkably, however, Perez appears unable to explain whether those school children re-enrolled in the same school district, re-enrolled in another Alabama school district, or left the state. He also does not specify what the normal withdrawal rate is in any given year to provide context.
Perez cites no other data given to him by the Alabama Department of Education to support his conclusions. Instead, he writes that anecdotal evidence backs up his claim that HB 56 is unlawfully impacting Hispanics residing in Alabama. Writing with deliberate vagueness, Perez states that “many” Hispanic students reported staying home from school or withdrawing out of fear and that “many students” conveyed that HB 56 made them “feel unwelcome in the schools they had attended for years.” “Hispanic children,” he adds, “reported increased anxiety and diminished concentration in school, deteriorating grades, and increased hostility, bullying, and intimidation.”
This letter from the DOJ to the Alabama Department of Education is not the first. In November 2011, Perez sent a letter to Alabama demanding its schools provide data about student absenteeism since the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 7, 2011) At first, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange balked at the request for local school data, but later the state agreed to cooperate with the DOJ investigation. However, it appears that the local school data, which Alabama sent to the DOJ in early April, did not provide the DOJ with the evidence of discrimination it sought as the most recent letter focused almost entirely on anecdotal reports and recitations of existing federal law.
The timing of this last DOJ letter was also unmistakable. It was sent to Alabama officials the very week the state legislature was scheduled to debate and vote on changes to HB 56. As it turns out, however, the Alabama Senate postponed debate on the legislation to amend HB 56 (HB 658) to this week.