Alabama Tells Courts to Reconsider Allowing Immigration Status Checks in Schools

The state of Alabama is fighting to collect immigration information on new students as well as to keep a measure making it illegal to harbor undocumented immigrants.

The state of Alabama – which passed the toughest state-level immigration law in the country -- has asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider parts of two opinions that in August struck down some provisions of the measure.

The appeals court said in August that the student provision of the law, known as HB 56, wrongly singled out children who are in the country illegally.

Alabama was one of several states that passed immigration laws in the last two years on the contention that the federal government has been derelict in its responsibility to control the borders and enforce laws that punish – and by extension would cut down on – illegal immigration.

But Alabama’s law stood out from the pack by going much further than other states. Alabama was the only state, for instance, that included a requirement to check immigration data for new K-12 students.

The judges said fear of the law "significantly deters undocumented children from enrolling in and attending school ...." Last fall, educators in Alabama reported countless number of students withdrawing from schools as a result of the law. Religious leaders argued that the provision criminalizing the harboring and transporting of undocumented immigrants would penalize them and their religious institutions, which often lend such assistance to those without documents.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said Monday the state was challenging the three-judge panel's decision to strike down parts of Alabama's law because the court was placing an illegal restraint on state government.

“We are filing this based on principle,” Governor Bentley said.  “As the Governor of Alabama, I have a duty to uphold and defend Alabama law.  Federal courts should not restrain state governments in a way that is contrary to the U.S. Constitution.”

Both private groups and the Obama administration had filed lawsuits to block the law.

Immigration advocates and civil rights groups assailed Alabama’s move.

The U.S. Justice Department argued that immigration is a federal duty, and that states were encroaching on that.

“Today, the State of Alabama continued to attempt to defend its illegal and immoral anti-immigrant law by asking the entire Eleventh Circuit to consider reinstating the provision of HB 56 requiring schools to interrogate students about their immigration status,” said Apreill Hartsfield, spokesperson for Southern Poverty Law Center, in a statement. “The Eleventh Circuit Panel’s decision. . .that Section 28 violates the equal protection clause by deterring enrollment in schools, was clearly the correct ruling, and we are sure that the decision will stand.”

“We are disappointed that the State is continuing to stand behind this unjust and hateful law, which has brought so much shame and ridicule upon the state.”

Alabama did win on some fronts in its battle to implement its own immigration law.

The appeals court allowed some provisions, including one that calls on Alabama police to check immigration documents for people they stop.

In the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld parts of a similar law in Arizona.

Opponents of state immigration laws have argued that many of the laws are punitive to immigrants, result in profiling, and that immigration policy must be steered and enforced by the federal government.

This story contains material from The Associated Press.

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