An untold number of legal Alabama citizens are having to face the prospect of being uprooted from a familiar environment following a judge’s decision to uphold the majority of the state’s illegal immigration law.
The citizens aren’t old enough to drive or vote and have little influence over their future. They were born in Alabama, but their parents are here illegally. When and if their parents leave, they will likely follow suit.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn blocked several key parts of the immigration law in her Wednesday ruling, but the portion of the bill pertaining to how schools track the status of students was upheld.
Education officials say scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from classes or kept them home this week, afraid that sending the kids to school would draw attention from authorities.
There are no precise statewide numbers. But several districts with large immigrant enrollments — from small towns to large urban districts — reported a sudden exodus of children of Hispanic parents, some of whom told officials they would leave the state to avoid trouble with the law, which requires schools to check students’ immigration status.
The anxiety has become so intense that Dr. Casey Wardynski, superintendent of Huntsville schools, went on a Spanish-language television show Thursday to try to calm widespread worries.
“In the case of this law, our students do not have anything to fear,” he said in halting Spanish. He urged families to send students to class and explained that the state is only trying to compile statistics.
Police, he insisted, were not getting involved in schools.
In the months following the Alabama House and Senate’s passage of the illegal immigration bill in June, there has been rampant confusion on how it would affect the school systems and the children of illegal immigrants.
One persistent myth is that children of illegal immigrants will be denied an education, which is not true.
“Regardless of their status, (children) are entitled to a public education,” said State Sen. Arthur Orr, adding that public education must be offered to all K-12 students. “The bill did not attempt to interfere with that Supreme Court mandate. It just requires the school systems to gather data.”
The state has distributed to schools sample letters that can be sent to parents of new students informing them of the law’s requirements for either citizenship documents or sworn statements by parents.
In an attempt to ease suspicions that the law may lead to arrests, the letter tells parents immigration information will be used only to gather statistics.
“Rest assured,” the letter states, “that it will not be a problem if you are unable or unwilling to provide either of the documents.”
Larry Craven, Alabama’s interim state school superintendent, said public schools will be required to comply with the immigration law by checking the citizenship status of new students. He said no child will be denied admission if their parents fail to provide documentation of citizenship.
He said school systems will ask parents for a child’s birth certificate upon enrollment for the first time. If they have none, they will be asked for additional documentation and to sign a statement that the child is a legal resident. Craven said all students must be enrolled whether they have documents or not.
He said those already enrolled won’t be checked.
The data gathered by school officials will be used to determine the percentage of undocumented immigrants attending public schools. That information would be sent to the Alabama Board of Education and rolled up into one report, which will then be presented to the Alabama Legislature. The first report will likely be presented in 2013.
Calls placed to Limestone County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Carroll on how the system would be affected were not returned.
Impact on children
Athens resident Jose Guerrero worries about the future of Hispanic children whose parents may be forced to flee the state.
Guerrero, who frequently assists local Hispanics, has seen all sides of how school-age children would be affected. He was previously employed as an English language learning instructional assistant at Clements High School, but resigned in August.
This week, Guerrero has been in Birmingham working to educate the agricultural community on how the law will affect farmers.
“(The law) is such a hardship on American-born children who are American citizens in the lower (school) grades,” he said. “They’re U.S. citizens who don’t speak a word of Spanish.”
Though he couldn’t give a specific number, Guerrero estimated there are slightly fewer than 200 children in Limestone County who have parents that are illegal. He said some parents have drawn up power of attorney documents to ensure their children could stay with legal guardians should one or both parents be deported or forced to leave.
“A lot of people would call me and ask how to get (a power of attorney),” he said. “They were doing all these things in preparation because they care so much for their kids.”
But Guerrero said he’s had just as many parents tell him they could never leave their children behind, so they would likely be forced to move to another state or another country.
If illegal immigrants are relying on power of attorney documents to transfer legal guardianship of a child to another adult, the question remains if the document would be binding. Limestone County Probate Judge Stan McDonald said it’s quite possible that a legal document in the hands of an illegal immigrant could be a worthless tool.
McDonald said it could boil down to the setting and the intent of the document, and if the grantee has prior knowledge of the immigration status of the grantor. But, he conceded there are instances in which the document could be valid.
“If someone is presented a valid power of attorney and they don’t check the (immigration) credentials, it’s reasonable to think someone might succeed (in transferring guardianship),” he said. “It’s about if they’re able to convey whatever right to powers they have. But if those rights are no longer in existence, they have nothing to convey.”
Guerrero said it bothers him to think about what children could possibly face if they are uprooted from their homes. He said living in impoverished or lower-class conditions in North Alabama can’t begin to compare with the drug cartel violence that rages in Mexico.
“I’m proud to be an American, but being a Mexican-American, this hurts me because I see the suffering of these children,” he said. “Now these American kids will have to be part of that (violent) environment.”
2 Oct 2011
How will immigration law effect students?
Posted on October 3, 2011