After the immigration law took effect in June 2011, many school systems across the state, as well as the Alabama Department of Education, reported incidents of Hispanic parents pulling their kids out of classrooms.
Not all immigrants are Hispanic, of course, and not all Hispanics are immigrants. But because many of Alabama’s immigrants are believed to be from Mexico or Central America, school officials expected a dip in Hispanic enrollment.
However, for Calhoun County schools at least, the law has had no apparent impact on enrollment, even a year later. And for one sponsor of the law, that does not come as a surprise, due to recent challenges from federal courts.
“After a year of the federal government deciding illegals are more important than citizens, a good number of illegal immigrants have re-entered the workforce,” said Sen. Scott Beason, R-Jefferson County, one of the lawmakers who sponsored the law. “There’s very little we’re actually being able to do.”
Alabama state officials are currently asking a federal appeals court to reconsider parts of two opinions that struck down parts of the immigration law in August. The provisions struck down concern the harboring of illegal immigrants, contracts and collecting school data on immigrant students. The judges have let stand another portion of the law, allowing local and state police to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.
Though the law never barred any immigrant, illegal or otherwise, from attending an Alabama public school, confusion over the law combined with the collection of students’ birthplaces triggered concern among parts of the Hispanic population, said Laura Vazquez, immigration legislative analyst for the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.
“There was so much fear in the community that some people did move,” Vazquez said.
If any Hispanics moved from Calhoun County, however, that change is not represented in the area’s school enrollment data.
“When the law was first passed, we didn’t know what to expect,” said Jeff Goodwin, superintendent of the Oxford school system. “We lost 10 or 12 after the first week, but then they came back.”
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Oxford school district has more Hispanic students than any other local school system, and has seen the largest increase in Hispanic residents in the last 10 years. Oxford’s numbers show the school system currently has 336 Hispanic students, an increase from the 324 enrolled in 2011. Fewer than 300 of the Hispanic students enrolled this year attend English-language-learning programs. The Oxford school system has a total of 4,163 students.
Oxford’s enrollment numbers do not indicate whether the Hispanic students are illegal immigrants.
The Anniston school system had a slight increase to 40 Hispanic students this year from 32 in the previous year. According to the Census, Anniston’s Hispanic population dropped to 216 from 409 in the last 10 years.
The Calhoun County school system has also seen an increase in Hispanic student enrollment – with 230 Hispanic students this year compared to 215 the previous year. Like Oxford, Calhoun County’s and Anniston’s statistics do not indicate whether any of their students are illegal immigrants.
The Alabama Department of Education wants to track how the law might be affecting enrollment, but the state does not yet have all the necessary data, said Malissa Valdes, public communications specialist for the Department of Education.
“We won’t have those enrollment numbers until the third week of October,” Valdes said.
Beason said the intent of the law was to save jobs for legal residents and keep illegal immigrants from using taxpayer-funded services.
“Every country has laws of who can and can’t come in … but we just say, ‘meh, it’s okay,’” Beason said.
Vazquez countered, however, saying the federal court’s decisions are justified and that problems still exist with the law.
“The law is being blocked piece by piece and that is a sign of how misguided it is,” Vazquez said. “But there is the provision that still allows police to ask for a person’s papers – I think that’s something that’s going to continue to be challenged.”
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star