File — Luther Strange, Alabama Attorney General (Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman)
Attorney General Luther Strange told the Justice Department on Wednesday that unless it can show it has legal authority to ask Alabama school districts for their enrollment information following the state's new immigration law, he will assume it has none and "proceed accordingly."The Justice Department is suing to block Alabama's strict new immigration law, part of which includes a provision requiring school districts to collect information on enrolling students' immigration status.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez sent out letters to school systems Monday saying that the law "may chill or discourage participation" in school activities. It also requested the school systems send information on nine topics addressing enrollment, enrollment practices and absences by Nov.ÿ14 "to assist us in determining what further action, if any, is warranted."
The department also asked districts to provide information on school withdrawals and unexplained absences "on a monthly basis, by the 15th of each month."
Strange wrote the Justice Department on Wednesday asking the DOJ to show where it has the power "to demand the information or compel its production."
"Otherwise, I will assume you have none, and will proceed accordingly," he wrote.
Asked what "proceed accordingly meant," Suzanne Webb, a spokeswoman for the Alabama attorney general, said "the letter speaks for itself."
Strange noted the pending litigation, and wrote that he was "perplexed and troubled" that Perez, who serves with the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, had "written to Alabama's school superintendents demanding information related to the pending litigation."
Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, said the department would review the letter.
The immigration law requires school districts to determine immigration status of enrolling students. If the district is unable to do so, parents must submit documentation or a declaration carrying the penalty of perjury stating their children are lawfully present in the United States. Without the documentation, the child would be marked as undocumented.
The law does not bar undocumented aliens from enrolling in schools, and a federal appeals court blocked enforcement of the provision last month.
Larry Craven, Alabama's interim state superintendent of education, said in a statement
.Wednesday afternoon that they would "permit the parties to resolve their outstanding issues" before making a response to the DOJ's request.