Washington – Associations defending human rights reported Monday an exodus of Hispanic students from Alabama following last week's court decision upholding the part of a tough state immigration law requiring schools to verify their immigration status.
"This law is the most unjust of all the immigration laws passed in the United States. It goes further, because it not only strikes fear into undocumented families but violates the right of children to an education," Mary Olivella, vice president of Moms Rising.org, said.
In a conference call, several associations joined with the many individuals and organizations opposed to Alabama's HB 56, considered the toughest of the five state laws that, inspired by Arizona's SB 1070, have recently been adopted in the United States to combat illegal immigration.
All of those measures have been challenged in court.
In her ruling last week, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn barred Alabama from enforcing four of the law's provisions pending final adjudication, but allowed others to stand.
Among the parts still in force is the one authorizing police to ask people they suspect of being undocumented for their papers and also the part that requires schools to verify the immigration status of students who registered after Sept. 1.
It is precisely the latter clause that has sowed panic in the state's immigrant community, so that hundreds of children have dropped out of school since last week and many others had already told their teachers they weren't coming back to class.
The vice president of Immigration and Child Rights Policy for First Focus, Wendy Cervantes, warned Monday that the law will not only make undocumented children drop out of school, but also U.S.-born youngsters whose parents or other relatives are undocumented.
She also noted that the funds schools receive depend on the number of students enrolled, so that, if last week's drastic drop in the number of students becomes permanent, Alabama law will also be detrimental to the other kids' education.
In the face of such fears, Alabama schools have undertaken a campaign to calm families down by convincing them that any information they provide will not be forwarded to immigration authorities.
But their call for calm has had little effect among the undocumented, who not only are taking their kids out of school, but fearing the other harsh provisions of the law, are even leaving the state where, in Olivella's words, "they feel rejected" since the law was passed.