Alabama Immigration Law Causes Hispanics to Leave Schools

Huntsville City Schools have seen absences by Hispanic students triple.

ByABC News
October 4, 2011, 11:30 AM

Oct. 4, 2011 -- Alabama schools are seeing abnormally high rates of absences for Hispanic students after what is widely considered the toughest anti-immigration law in America went into effect.

The law, which was approved by the state legislature and widely backed by voters, allows police to check for papers and detain undocumented residents without bail. It also mandates that public schools share with authorities the citizenship status of all newly enrolled students.

Keith Ward, spokesperson for Huntsville City Schools, one of the largest school districts in the state with 23,000 students, told ABC News that of the 1,435 Hispanic students enrolled in Huntsville schools, 207 were absent last Thursday, the day the law took effect.

As of Monday, that number had decreased to 111, according to Ward. It is still substantially above the average of 20 to 40 absences for Hispanic students for a given week prior to the law. Ward expects the number of Hispanic absences to continue to decrease as the week continues and then plateau.

He credits the decline to the rapid outreach of Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski.

"The superintendent tried to reach out and explain the law ... in terms of what the law means for schools," said Ward. "We have no control over the other aspects of the law."

Wardynski took to YouTube and the district's cable access channel in both English and Spanish on Sept. 30.

"This bill that was passed by our state is really about gathering statistics it's not about coming to anybody's house, taking anybody away," he said. "The schools are not enforcing extradition."

Under the law, schools are required to ask new students for either a birth certificate or proof they are in the country legally. However, if they are unable to provide proper documentation they are still able to attend school and neither the students nor the parents will be arrested.

"This is just one additional check mark on a registration form," Ward said.

The school then provides statistical information to the state about the number of students who were unable to provide documentation.

The state made available form letters that schools can send to parents of new students that clarify the requirements of the law and informs parents that they should not be concerned if they are unable to provide citizenship documents or sworn statements.

"Rest assured," reads the letter, "that it will not be a problem if you are unable or unwilling to provide either of the documents."

ABC News' Steve Osunsami and the Associated Press contributed to this report.