- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department has asked every school district in Alabama to hand over enrollment information about all their students as part of its lawsuit challenging that state’s tough immigration law.

The department sent letters to school superintendents Monday telling them to provide lists that include the students’ race, national origin and whether English is their primary language. Justice Department lawyers also sought the names of students who have withdrawn from school and the date they withdrew.

The Obama administration says it’s concerned that Alabama’s recently enacted immigration law may chill student participation, and it wants the information to determine if further action is warranted.

Federal courts have put on hold a portion of Alabama’s law that requires schools to report the number, but not the names, of students whose immigration status is in question.

State Sen. Scott Beason, a Republican who sponsored the law, said the Justice Department’s letter shows the importance of compiling information. “They are asking for the same student information we tried to get. They are proving our point,” he said.

The Justice Department’s letter reminded school superintendents that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that schools may not deny a student access based on immigration status and that the Justice Department enforces civil rights laws.

Mr. Beason said the Alabama law only sought statistics and did not deny enrollment to any illegal immigrant.

Michael Sibley, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the Justice Department went directly to city and county superintendents rather than going through the department. He said he’s not aware of the Justice Department ever seeking all students’ names before in Alabama.

He said schools will need to devote significant resources and staff time to meet the Justice Department’s deadline of Nov. 14.

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