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Federal court blocks parts of Alabama, Georgia Immigration Laws

A federal appeals court has blocked Alabama's requirement that schools determine whether enrolling children are illegal immigrants.

Under the law known as H.B. 56, parents must provide schools a copy of their children's birth certificates. For those who were born outside the United States or can't provide a birth certificate, parents must provide citizenship or immigration documentation. Students lacking those are presumed to be illegal immigrants.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found on Aug. 20 that this provision interferes with the right to an elementary public education in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The ruling cites the 1982 Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe that said a Texas law denying free public education to undocumented children violated the clause. In that case, the court emphasized the blamelessness of the affected children and required a higher threshold to justify the effects that a lack of education can have, the 11th Circuit ruling says.

The 11th Circuit specifies that H.B. 56's requirement to provide documentation will deter illegal immigrants from enrolling in school, even though state officials said they would collect the information only to have data about the costs of educating illegal immigrants. But state officials also said the requirement is "unlikely to yield particularly precise data," and inaccurate data would not be useful to forecast costs, the court says.

And while the provision restricts the dissemination of the information families provide, federal law requires states to disclose immigration information upon request. That makes the privacy restrictions "wholly ineffectual," the court says.

In a companion case, the 11th Circuit also blocked other provisions of Alabama's law because they intrude into the federal government's jurisdiction over immigration matters.

For example, the law criminalized illegal immigrants' applications for work and failure to carry alien registration documents.

Additionally, in another Aug. 20 decision, the court blocked part of a Georgia immigration law, H.B. 87, because it penalized conduct related to immigration status that the federal government already regulates.

Georgia's law made it an offense to transport or harbor illegal immigrants, for example. But the federal government already penalizes those actions through the Immigration and Nationality Act, the court says.