This week a federal judge in Alabama enjoined key sections of that state’s radical “make life miserable for the undocumented and so what if others get caught up in it too” law. However, she let stand some other provisions of the statute, including the “papers please” provision for traffic stops and the requirement that schools check the immigration status of schoolchildren and their parents.
I will leave for the constitutional scholars the legal analysis of the judge’s decision. Instead, I’d like to focus on the utter silliness of the provision requiring a check of children’s immigration status.
How is it silly? Let me count the ways:
First, the cost. At a time when school budgets are being slashed, impacting the quality of education, schools all over Alabama are being asked to set up a bureaucracy to check all its students’ papers and maintain elaborate recordkeeping of what they find.
Second, the so-called reasoning. Alabama maintains that this is to gauge the cost of educating the undocumented (or the children of undocumented—their line gets fuzzy). But there is an assumption here that makes this whole premise ridiculous. They are counting only costs, but not counting the immigrants’ contributions. Overlooked is the fact that Alabama schools are funded by property and sales taxes. Everyone but the homeless pay property taxes, either directly or as part of their rental payments to landlords who in turn pay the taxes. And, anyone who buys anything pays sales tax. So how is Alabama going to tally how much immigrants are paying into the system?
Third, the inaccuracy of the figures this process will collect. Because of the way the law is written, if the documentation or information about status is not forthcoming, the student will be presumed to be undocumented. Anyone who has ever dealt with American citizens being asked for immigration status documents can tell you that many are outraged at the very idea of producing papers: “Isn’t is apparent that I’m American?” Not to mention, the outright unfairness of the law is compounded immeasurably when you consider that Alabama is home to many military families. It’s not hard to imagine a child who was born outside the U.S. registering for school. Nor is it difficult to imagine an Alabama child who has one U.S. citizen parent (perhaps even a military parent) and one undocumented parent. So, many citizens will simply shrug off these demands, resulting in a much higher count of undocumented than is the reality.
Fourth, the impact on the children. Demands for immigration papers are intimidating to undocumented or mixed families. The temptation for some in the school to “turn them in” will be great, and even if families are aware of the law’s prohibitions against this, they will know about that temptation. Children will be taken out of school by their parents for the protection of the family. This will result in citizens (since the U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents are covered) and residents of the U.S. lacking education. Plus, if English is not spoken at home, these children will grow up unassimilated, as they will be denied the setting where English is learned most rapidly.
Fifth, the impact on society. The whole point of this provision is to discourage getting certain children educated. An uneducated populace hurts us all. That is why people like me, with no children, have willingly paid all these years to have other people’s children educated. We all benefit in the end.
But, in the end, Alabama loses here. Unfortunately, so does the rest of America.