On August 20, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a mixed ruling for recent anti-immigrant laws passed in Alabama and Georgia. For both laws, HB 56 and HB 87, the court followed the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this summer regarding a similar Arizona law (Arizona et al v. United States). The appeals court thus upheld provisions in the two state laws that allowed police to check the immigration status of people suspected of committing a crime.
The court, however, struck down other provisions of both states’ laws, including one of the major features of the Alabama law, a provision that required public schools to check the citizenship status of new students. This is a major blow to the anti-immigrant movement, which saw the provision as a significant step towards overturning the Supreme Court’s landmark 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision, which ruled that all children, regardless of their immigration status, are permitted to attend K-12 public schools in the United States.
Overturning Plyler v. Doe has been one of the anti-immigrant movement’s key long-term goals; many major anti-immigrant groups have spoken openly about overturning the decision. In November 2011, for example, the anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) wrote hopefully about what Alabama’s HB 56 might accomplish: “Thus, the collection of immigration data regarding K-12 students in Alabama (and indeed in other states) could provide concrete evidence needed to revise the Supreme Court's holding in Plyler v. Doe.” FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), actually helped draft HB 56. In a 2011 interview with the New York Times, Mike Hethmon of IRLI said that the eventual goal was to challenge Plyler v. Doe.
Similarly, the Center for Immigration Studies, a major anti-immigration think tank, published a report in 2005 by Mark Levin that claimed that the Pyler v. Doe decision “is perhaps the most egregious of the Court’s immigration rulings.” Former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, for many years the leading anti-immigrant voice in Arizona, also floated the idea of forcing undocumented children to pay tuition to attend public schools in his state. This, of course, would have been in direct violation of the Plyler v. Doe ruling.
The court’s decision on the school provision is thus not only a significant civil rights decision that protects children. It also thwarts one of the key planks of the anti-immigrant movement’s agenda.