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Southern Poverty Law Center v. Dr. Thomas R. Bice

After Alabama’s anti-immigrant law took effect, the U.S. Department of Justice obtained public school attendance records and found a decline in Latino student attendance. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is challenging the constitutionality of the law, requested the same data to determine the law’s impact on Latino students’ access to a public education. The SPLC filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Education after being denied the public records.

The SPLC requested data for K-12 students enrolled in Alabama’s public schools before and after HB 56 was enacted. Section 28 of the law requires school officials to collect immigration data from families when they enroll their children in school, though the provision was blocked by federal courts shortly after it took effect.

The records were needed to better understand the education crisis created by Section 28. A DOJ letter from May 2012 states that “the data show that compared with the prior school years the rate of withdrawals of Hispanic children substantially increased.” It also states that HB 56 “diminished access to and quality of education of Alabama’s Hispanic children.”

Section 28 went into effect on Sept. 29, 2011, and was temporarily blocked by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 14, 2011. In June 2012, that court issued its detailed ruling, emphasizing that Section 28 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The court also blocked most other provisions of HB 56 as being unconstitutional. However, the DOJ reported that in the brief window in which Section 28 went into effect, Latino student absences tripled and remained high even after it was blocked.