Alabama AG Questions DOJ Authority to Demand Student Data
By Samuel Knight | November 3, 2011 9:39 am

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange,, told the Justice Department on Wednesday that the state will not reveal information about school enrollment unless the federal government can demonstrate that its request is legal.

Alabama and the Justice Department are currently engaged in a courtroom battle over the state’s new immigration law, H.B. 56, which includes a requirement that the state’s public schools ask for students’ immigration status.

On Monday, Thomas Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for the department’s Civil Rights Division, demanded information about enrollment, absences and withdrawals from Alabama school systems by November 14 “to assist us in determining what further action, if any, is warranted.”

“It has come to our attention that the requirements of Alabama’s H.B. 56 may chill or discourage student participation in, or lead to the exclusion of school-age children from, public education programs based on their or their parents’ race, national origin, or actual or perceived immigration status, or based on their homeless or foster care status and consequent lack of documentation,” he said in a letter to the school districts.

But Strange replied in a letter that the Justice Department must prove that it has the authority “to demand the information, or compel its production,” according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

“Otherwise, I will assume you have none and proceed accordingly,” he said.

Strange added that he was “perplexed and troubled” that Perez had demanded “information related to pending litigation.”

Xochitil Hinojosa, a Justice Department spokesperson, told the Montgomery Advertiser that the department would review the letter.

Larry Craven, Alabama’s interim state superintendent of education, said on Wednesday that his department would “permit the parties to resolve their out­standing issues” before responding to Perez’s request.

On October 14, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta forced Alabama to refrain from requiring immigrants to carry an alien registration card and forcing public schools to verify students’ immigration status until the DOJ’s appeal against a District Court Judge’s decision to allow most of the law is heard.

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