Justice Department Investigating Alleged Civil Rights Violations in Alabama SchoolsNovember 22, 2011

The Department of Justice is investigating whether Alabama's new immigration bill is denying children equal access to public education based on their immigration status, in violation of federal anti-discrimination and civil rights laws. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange responded to the inquiry by questioning the Justice Department's legal authority to monitor and enforce federal law.

Alabama's new immigration law requires schools to check the immigration status of students and their parents. After the law took effect in September, the Department of Justice received reports that students were being harassed and bullied, and that frightened parents were keeping children out of school.

The Supreme Court has upheld every child’s right to a public education regardless of immigration status, and the Department of Justice is charged with investigating possible violations of federal civil rights and anti-discrimination laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.

On November 1, DOJ asked 39 Alabama school superintendents for data on student absences and withdrawals since the school year began, as part of its investigation into these complaints.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange responded with a letter questioning the Department's authority to request the information.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez responded by reminding Strange about the federal civil rights statutes that authorize and obligate the Department to investigate complaints that children in Alabama are being denied the right to attend school without being subject to discrimination.