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Alabama immigration law leaves schools gripped by uncertainty

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Effective Thursday, schools are to check birth certificates only when a child is enrolling in an Alabama school for the first time. If officials determine the child isn’t in the US lawfully or if a birth certificate is not presented, they then must ask the parent or guardian to provide other documentation or sign an affidavit about the citizenship or immigration status of the student. If that document doesn't arrive within 30 days, the school records that child as "enrolled without birth certificate" in the state data system.

The law doesn’t require schools to report students’ names when counting up the number who don’t have legal documentation.

“We want to put a stop to the fear-mongering,” said Larry Craven, Alabama's interim superintendent of Education, at a press conference Thursday afternoon. “No student should be denied enrollment for not providing a birth certificate.”

That message does not seem to be getting through to many immigrant families, though.

Some illegal-immigrant parents whose children are citizens have already said they plan to leave, making comments like, “we don’t want them to take away our children,” says Dawn DuPree Kelley, longtime principal of Greenwood Elementary Schools in the Jefferson County School System.

“We’ve been having to troubleshoot today to offer encouragement ... and let them know that the best place is to have their child in school – that’s their federal right [and] they are safe in school,” says Ms. Kelley, who suggests 10 percent of her students are immigrants, most of them Hispanic.

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