Sen. Scott Beason has defended the school provision of HB 56 by claiming its just about statistics.
But lawmakers behind the new legislation say it’s all about statistics.
“We’re not even requiring them to turn any specific person in,” said Scott Beason, a Republican state senator.
According to Beason and other supporters of the law, Alabama taxpayers deserve an accurate assessment of how much they pay to educate the children of illegal immigrants.
While it is difficult to determine how many illegal immigrants attend Alabama’s public schools, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a non-profit advocacy group calling for tougher immigration reform, estimates the national cost of educating children of illegal immigrants at nearly $52 billion per year.
“We have a certain hypothesis of how much we’re spending,” Beason said. “But we need to begin to gather that data so we can prove how much of a problem it really is.”
The man who wrote the schools provision says the same thing, that it is not meant as a deterrent — at least not yet. It is, however, a first step in a larger and long-considered strategy to topple a 29-year-old Supreme Court ruling that all children in the United States, regardless of their immigration status, are guaranteed a public education.
The provision, which is known as Section 28, requires primary and secondary schools to record the immigration status of incoming students and their parents and pass that data on to the state.
Critics say it is a simple end in itself, an attempt to circumvent settled law and to scare immigrants away from school now, not at some point in the future. Weeks of erratic school attendance figures and a spike in withdrawals show that this has worked, they argue. And indeed, a federal appeals court on Oct. 14 blocked the provision pending an appeal by the Justice Department, though the court did not rule on the merits.
Michael M. Hethmon, general counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, who wrote the provision, insists that its goal is much more ambitious.
The eventual target, he said, is the 1982 Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe. The case concerned a Texas statute that withheld funds for the education of illegal immigrants and allowed districts to bar them from enrollment, as well as one Texas school district’s plan to charge illegal immigrants tuition.
The court ruled that this violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause, saying that the statute “imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable” for their immigration status. In the decision, the court also said that the state had not presented evidence showing it was substantially harmed by giving these children — as distinct from any other children — a free public education. . .
“The toughest question has been obtaining reliable — and I mean reliable for peer-reviewed research purposes — censuses of the number of illegal alien students enrolled in school districts,” he said. “That information could be compared with other sorts of performance or resource allocation issues.”
The Alabama law directs schools to ascertain the immigration status of incoming students, through a birth certificate, other official documents or an affidavit by the child’s parents (the law also directs schools to determine the immigration status of an enrolling child’s parents, but gave no mechanism by which to do so).
That information is then passed on to the State Board of Education not only to prepare an annual report with the data but also to “contract with reputable scholars and research institutions” to determine the costs, fiscal and otherwise, of educating illegal immigrants.
Because no one is actually barred from attending school and the data is not passed on to law enforcement, the provision passes constitutional muster, Mr. Hethmon said.
But it also potentially enables a fresh challenge to Plyler v. Doe, and the idea that schools are obligated to provide a free education to illegal immigrants.
So it is not really just about statistics and when AG Luther Strange argued before a federal court that: “No child will be denied an education based on unlawful status,” he should have added “not yet.