Alabama Refuses DOJ Request to Cooperate with HB 56 Inquiry

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 Alabama will not let the battle over its breathtakingly harsh anti-immigrant law, HB 56, be fought just in the courts.

In a flurry of letters exchanged late last week the Department of Justice sought access to education records for Alabama as part of an inquiry looking into whether provisions of the law are violating the civil rights of Alabama’s residents. And twice Alabama refused the federal government’s request, arguing that the DOJ had “no legal authority to compel production” of its education records.

It all began last Wednesday, when Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez sent a letter to 39 Alabama superintendents in charge of districts with strong Latino enrollment asking for enrollment records. That request included a list of students designated as English Language Learners, and lists of students who had withdrawn from school or had unexcused absences since HB 56 had gone into effect.

The letter reminded Alabama school officials that a decades-old Supreme Court decision had affirmed the rights of U.S. resident children, regardless of their immigration status, to enroll in public schools.

The DOJ was prompted by reports that HB 56 was having a chilling effect on students too fearful to take advantage of their constitutional right to an education. The law seeks to undercut the basic rights of immigrants and includes a provision demanding schools track the immigration statuses of its students. Perez said that his office was concerned that the enforcement of HB 56 was potentially violating the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Opportunities Education Act.

In his first response, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange instructed Alabama education officials not to cooperate with the request during of the ongoing legal fights over the law, and then demanded that Perez cite his legal authority to request the state’s education records. Read more here.