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Should South Carolina schools check for immigration status?

The children of undocumented immigrants are currently admitted to public schools in South Carolina, like elsewhere in the nation, as mandated by federal law. Under current state and federal law, school officials have no authority to inquire into a student's immigration status or ask for documents supporting citizenship.

The state of Alabama, however, has adopted a harsh new rule under which directs school administrators to interrogate school children about whether they are in the country legally. Reportedly, state lawmakers are planning to use the information gathered by the schools in order to generate an argument concerning the amount of public resources being used to provide an education to the children of undocumented workers.

Alabama officials claimed that they did not intend to punish or exclude undocumented children or their parents, and that there would be no consequences for failing to respond to their inquiries.

However, the Hispanic community in particular has responded to the inquiries with fear. It was reported that thousands of Hispanic students did not return to school after the new law went into effect, afraid that any information provided could ultimately be used against their families.

The existence of the Alabama law has reportedly stirred up some South Carolina lawmakers who are also considering enacting similar measures in the state. But for now, South Carolina schools are continuing to comply with state and federal law and enrolling all school age children who present themselves and can show that they reside in the school district.

Critics of the Alabama approach suggest that, in addition to running counter to the federal law making immigration status irrelevant to the right to a public education, the approach may be used to single out and stigmatize children on the basis of ethnic origin. Of course, it is possible that the Alabama law will be challenged, but perhaps not before a similar law is adopted in South Carolina.

Source: 7 On Your Side, "Lawmakers May Consider New Immigration Rules In S.C. Schools," Gordon Dill, Oct. 10, 2011.

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