The US Justice Department issued a letter to Alabama school districts Tuesday requesting a list of students who have withdrawn from school since the academic year began, reminding schools they cannot deny children access to public education based on their immigration status.
Tuesday's letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez to school superintendents said it had come to the Justice Department's attention that Alabama's controversial new immigration law "may chill or discourage" students from attending school based on their or their parents' race, national origin or immigration status.
The letter requested school districts provide information including a list of all enrolled students as of Sept. 27, a list of all students who have withdrawn from school since the academic year started -- including the reason for withdrawal -- and a list of all students who have had at least one unexplained absence since Sept. 27.
The letter requested schools include students' races, nations of origin and English Language Learner statuses in their lists.
On Sept. 28, a federal judge upheld most of the state's law, including the section requiring schools to check the citizenship status of children. The following week, the Justice Department asked the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to overturn the judge's decision. It later asked the court to halt the enforcement of the law pending the outcome of the appeal.
On Oct. 14, the court temporarily blocked some provisions of the law, including the section making it a state offense for aliens to not carry registration papers with them at all times. The court also ruled authorities may not require Alabama schools to check the immigration status of all students.
The Justice Department says the law, signed by Alabama's Republican Gov. Robert Bentley in June, unconstitutionally invades the federal government's exclusive authority over immigration.
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