Skip to Content

NEA challenges harshest immigration law in the nation


WASHINGTON - November 21, 2011 -

The National Education Association, the Alabama Education Association, and the National School Boards Association today filed a joint amicus brief challenging a law passed by Alabama lawmakers earlier this year. H.B. 56 requires school personnel to verify that newly enrolling students are in the country legally.  If parents are unable to provide proof of U.S. citizenship, then the student will be designated as undocumented in annual reports school districts must provide to the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1982 case, Plyler v. Doe, that states must provide an education to all students, even if they are not in this country legally. The amicus brief argues that the law’s requirement that school personnel check the immigration status of students will cause undocumented parents not to send their children to school and deprive them of their right to an education. 
“This law is woefully misguided and assaults the legal rights of children,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “All students should have access to public education. The amicus brief NEA is filing gives voice to our continued commitment to remove H.B. 56 from Alabama’s law books.”

H.B. 56 is by most accounts the harshest immigration law in the United States. In response to it, families are abandoning their homes, workers are quitting their jobs, and small businesses are losing customers. The draconian law could even be interpreted to make it a crime for churches to provide food to undocumented immigrants at a church dinner. Following a U. S. District Court ruling last September upholding most of H.B. 56, hundreds of immigrant families withdrew their children from classes or kept them home. Parents were afraid that sending their children to school would draw attention from authorities.

“Our public schools were created with the promise that all students who walk through their doors would be educated, regardless of the child’s national origin or the economic status of the parents,” said Van Roekel. “Unfortunately, H.B. 56 is having a chilling effect — children have literally vanished from Alabama classrooms. School employees are hired to help students learn, not check their immigration status. What students need most to succeed is an education and this law gets in the way of that.”

On October 14, 2011, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the state defendants from implementing the section of the law that requires schools to verify the immigration status of newly enrolling students.  The injunction will stay in effect pending a ruling on the merits sometime after the first of the year.  The joint amicus brief, which was filed in the Eleventh Circuit, states: “the purpose and effect of H.B. 56 is to use fear and intimidation to drive undocumented immigrants and their children out of the state of Alabama.”

“The message ‘You’re not welcome here’ harks back to another period in history when children were denied the right to an education — a period America should never have to revisit,” van Roekel said. “Nobody wins when a state law pushes children out of our public schools and into the shadows of society. We will not rest until this law is overturned.”

Follow us on twitter at www.twitter.com/NEAMedia

# # #

The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT:  Miguel A. Gonzalez  (202) 822-7823, mgonzalez@nea.org