Immigration, the Justice Dept. and Alabama's schools
Alabama schools had until Monday to comply with a federal request for information about its Latino students. And so far, it appears as if local officials are working to meet the deadline despite threats to the contrary by some state officials.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Monday that it is working with 39 local school districts to obtain data on student absences and other information. The Obama administration says it needs the information to determine whether a new state law is discouraging Latino students, including U.S. citizen children, from attending school.
Alabama enacted a controversial anti-immigration measure earlier this year. A key provision requires school districts to check the immigration status of all students. That has led to legal challenges, including one brought by the Obama administration. A federal appeals court has put the measure on hold pending a trial.
Alabama Atty. Gen. Luther Strange, however, isn't happy about the government's intervention. He has repeatedly questioned the Justice Department's authority. And this month he wrote the Justice Department demanding that officials provide his office with the legal justification for requesting the student data. That prompted DOJ's top civil rights attorney, Thomas Perez, to write back that he has authority under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Now, it turns out that it's the attorney general who may not have legal standing to intervene. Strange's office said it represents Alabama's schools superintendent, not the individual school districts.
The federal government has repeatedly warned school officials around the country that they must comply with Plyler vs. Doe, the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established that students cannot be denied an education because of their immigration status.
In the end, it may not matter who has legal standing if the only thing that is achieved is turning Alabama's schools into a battleground.
Photo: Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press