School Immigration Status Checks in Alabama Ruled Unconstitutional
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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021
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An especially controversial Alabama immigration law (HB 56, Section 28) was struck down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on August 20, 2012 as violating the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Alabama’s law required all students newly enrolling in a public elementary or secondary school in Alabama to provide the child’s birth certificate, or a certified copy of it, at the time of enrollment. Schools were then to determine if the child was born in the United States, and if not, whether or not the child was in the U.S. legally. Parents were required, within 30 days of enrollment, to provide official documentation of the child’s legal status or a notarized copy. If parents did not have the documentation, they could opt to sign a declaration stating that their child is in the U.S. legally. If parents did none of the above, the child was presumed to be in the country illegally. Schools were also required to keep a record of the number of legal and illegal immigrants in the schools.
In Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama vs. Governor of Alabama, the 11th Circuit court panel viewed the blanket provision requiring birth certificates at enrollment as a way for the state to force families to expose their illegal status (or “concede it through silence.”), putting up barriers to education for undocumented children that violate the Supreme Court decision in Phyler vs. Doe. In that 1982 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that sought to withhold state education funding to and enrollment of children not in the U.S. legally. The Court recognized illegal aliens as “persons” pursuant to the Equal Protection clause and, therefore, entitled to an elementary education in the same way that legal and non-alien children are.
While the school immigration status check was held unconstitutional, a separate section allowing police officers to check the immigration status of people they have detained, similar to an Arizona law recently upheld by the Supreme Court, was allowed to stand.