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Lily Eskelsen's picture

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I do not understand deliberate cruelty. I understand it exists. I understand that those who practice it can often justify it as excusable and even noble. But I do not understand it.

But cruelty to a child? This is beyond all understanding. It is cruel to deliberately frighten children. In Alabama they have passed an anti-immigrant law infinitely worsethan the shameful one passed in Arizona that got so much attention.

alabama schoolAP

One thing that makes Alabama’s HB 56 worse is the provision designed to frighten school children and confuse families.

Immigrant families, which are overwhelming Latino families, are bound to be confused about what their rights are, and their rights are precious few, but clear.

One legal right was settled by the Supreme Court over 30 years ago.

All children, immigrant or not, with or without documentation, all the public’s children have the right to a public education. Children will not be punished with illiteracy for the acts of their parents. That’s the law.

It’s also the law that politicians cannot require schools to demand immigration papers from families who are trying to enroll their children. They cannot turn away children who cannot produce their immigration papers. That’s the law.

So in Alabama, politicians wormed their way around those precious rights.

The new law requires schools to ASK parents if the child was born outside the country. They are required to ASK about the child’s immigration status. Now, the parent has the legal right to refuse to answer that question, but how many parents are going to know that? If the parent cannot produce the documentation, the school is to assume that the child is undocumented, and data must be turned into the authorities.

Although districts are trying hard to assure parents that the information they are asking for will not be used against their families, many parents are reasonably frightened that it is a trap.

The law does not require names be turned in. It requires the school to report the “number” of assumed undocumented children enrolling in the school. There is no earthly use for such assumed data. The collection of data is not the end. It is the means to cause fear. It is the pretext to frighten children and their parents into fearing that it will indeed be names and addresses that will be turned in and fearing visions of night deportation raids where sleeping families will be scooped up together, as they have been in the past, and the documented will be sorted from the undocumented later.

Supporters of the bill understood what they were doing. Children and families would be frightened and intimidated and would be too terrified to go to school. Children would fear the school secretaries and principals and teachers who would be forced to ask for sensitive information.

Even if they are natural-born citizens, which many children of immigrant parents are, they may fear for their papi or grandmother or cousin who may be undocumented.

It is a very cleverly crafted law. It will work as it was designed. Children will be afraid of their teachers. They will be afraid to come to school. They will stop learning to read and stop learning to multiply and stop learning chemistry and history and where the comma goes and stop learning at all because there is a law that is doing exactly what it was designed to do: Make children afraid.

This will make supporters of the Alabama law very happy.

I will never understand the cruelty of people who are happy that they have frightened a child.


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