In the latest of a series of sparring letters between the U.S. Justice Department and Alabama over educational issues surrounding the state's new immigration law, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange won't yield -- after the federal office noted its "express authority" to investigate.
Last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez pressured Alabama schools to abide by federal requirements that states cannot deny children equal access to public education based on immigration status. In a letter Monday to Alabama school superintendents, Perez requested information on enrollment practices by mid-month, saying that the state's new immigration law "may chill or discourage" young people from taking part in public education.
Perez seeks to determine whether the law has affected public school enrollment and determine if Alabama is in federal compliance and "whether further action is warranted."
In response, Strange questioned the Justice Department's legal authority to acquire enrollment information about students across the state's schools. He requested that the department respond by Friday, "otherwise, I will assume you have none, and will proceed accordingly," Strange wrote.
By Friday, the Justice Department did respond, telling the attorney general that it has "express authority" to investigate what could be violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, Fox News reports. From Fox News:
"The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is tasked with investigating potential violations of civil rights laws that protect educational opportunities for schoolchildren," Perez wrote in a letter. "We know that the longstanding legal tradition in this country of ensuring the right to attend school without being subject to discrimination on any impermissible ground is as critically important to you, as the Attorney General of the State of Alabama, as it is to the Civil Rights Division."
But according to WBHM, Strange wasn't convinced, responding to the Justice Department, "Thank you for your letter of today's date, which I understand to confirm that your Office asserts no legal authority to compel production of the information that you are seeking." WBHM reports that Strange continues in his letter:
"My office is determined to see that our school children are protected from unlawful activity. Toward that end, would you please share with me any complaints that your division has recently received in Alabama? Perhaps that would help us to begin a joint endeavor."
Meanwhile, interim schools Superintendent Larry Craven has advised district superintendents not to comply with the federal request until the Justice Department and Strange resolve their dispute, the Associated Press reports.
The debate comes after the Justice Department sued Alabama over a statute that requires schools to collect information on the immigration status of students who seek enrollment in public schools, though it does not block undocumented students from enrolling in the system. A federal appeals court last month blocked the state from implementing the statute, but ruled to stay parts of the law.