Last week, a U.S. Justice Department official added to the mounting criticism of HB 56, saying the harsh legislation has already had “lasting” negative effects on the state’s Hispanic students. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the federal department’s Civil Rights Division, addressed a strongly-worded letter to Alabama’s education department on HB 56’s consequences for school children:
Hispanic students absence rates tripled while absence rates for other groups of students remained virtually flat. […] The rate of total withdrawals of Hispanic children substantially increased, with 13.4% of such children having dropped out between the beginning of the current school year and this February.
As Perez goes on to point out, the Constitution guarantees immigrant students’ right to an education — and even on top of that, nearly 99% of all of Alabama’s K-12 public school students are, in fact, U.S. citizens. After conducting interviews with students, parents, and teachers in the state’s public school districts, the DOJ official has determined that many school children of Hispanic origin feel “unwelcome in schools they had attended for years” regardless of their immigration status.
Just as Perez makes clear, the harmful HB 56 legislation has already begun to do its damage. In order to prevent even more negative effects on Alabama’s children — both immigrants and U.S. citizens — it has to go immediately.