published Saturday, November 5th, 2011

U.S. Justice Department says complaints spur data request

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The U.S. Justice Department told Alabama’s attorney general that it wants enrollment information from schools because it has received complaints about possible discrimination under Alabama’s tough new immigration law, and the agency is evaluating the potential for civil rights law violations.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez sent the letter Friday. It was a response to Attorney General Luther Strange, who questioned if the Justice Department had the legal authority to seek lists of student enrollments and withdrawals from 39 school systems with significant Hispanic populations. Strange had sought an answer by noon Friday and got it.

In it, Perez questioned the attorney general’s authority.

“Separately, it is our understanding that you do not represent the school districts that we contacted,” Perez wrote.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said he was studying the letter and would comment later.

Strange is defending Alabama’s immigration law against the Justice Department’s challenge. The law, described by the governor and many others as the toughest in the nation, includes a requirement for schools to check the legal status of students when they enroll and report the statistics to state education officials. Federal courts have put that portion of the law on hold.

The Justice Department sent letters Monday to 39 school superintendents seeking lists that include the race and national origin of students, as well as whether English is their primary language. Justice Department attorneys also wanted the names of students who have withdrawn from school and the dates they left.

Alabama’s interim superintendent of education, Larry Craven, has advised superintendents to do nothing until Strange and the Justice Department resolve their differences.

In a separate development, Alabama has pushed back the deadline for businesses to get their state and county licenses because of difficulties with the immigration law.

State Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee signed an order extending the deadline from Oct. 31 to Nov. 30 “due to the hardship placed on Alabama businesses” that could not obtain or renew their licenses in October “due to technical difficulties” with implementing the law.

The new law requires individuals and general partnerships trying to get or renew their annual business and store licenses to show a driver’s license and birth certificate or similar document. The law has caused long lines at some courthouses, mostly people having to show legal proof of residency for vehicle tags and registrations.

Crenshaw County Probate Judge Jim Perdue, president of the Alabama Probate Judges Association, said the one-month waiver was a courtesy to citizens and county officials still learning how to comply.

“The problem with the immigration law is there are a lot of changes, and we didn’t have time to flesh them out and learn how to do them,” he said Friday.

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