Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today hailed the August 20 ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down a portion of an Alabama law that requires school officials, including teachers and administrators, to check and report the immigration status of each student and that student's parents as the student enrolls in school. A three-judge panel found that the requirement, part of a larger law known as HB 56, deters children from enrolling, violating the 1982 Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing all children the right to an elementary education.
"The courts are doing what many state legislatures have decided not to do -- uphold the Constitution and the rule of law in this country," Grijalva said of yesterday's ruling. "School teachers are not immigration agents and the United States will not be a nation ruled by fear and discrimination, as much as some people may hope otherwise. This law was unconstitutional the day it was written and it's unconstitutional today. Now Alabama can start educating young people again instead of using them as political weapons. I think we can all agree that's the right outcome."
Grijalva in May signed a "friend of the court" brief in the case,known as Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama v. Bentley, urging rejection of the law on equal protection and federal preemption grounds. After a visit to Birmingham in November 2011 with other Members of Congress to hear local testimony on the law's impacts, he wrote in an op-ed, "There is no upside to these measures. They don't make anyone safer, and they certainly don't create jobs. What's happening in these states, and across the nation, is part of a divisive strategy pursued by demagogues for short-term political gains. By spreading fear and encouraging discrimination, over-reaching state laws -- which have already cost Arizona $141 million in lost business and will do the same to any state that follows its lead -- attack the very principles that make our nation strong."
The impact on Alabama's education system has already been severe. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez in May wrote a letter to Alabama's education department warning that "the rate of total withdrawals of Hispanic children substantially increased" from public schools once the law went into effect. HB 56, Perez wrote, has "diminished access to and quality of education for many of Alabama's Hispanic children, resulted in missed school days, chilled or prevented the participation of parents in their children's education, and transformed the climates of some schools into less safe and welcoming spaces for Hispanic children."