The New York Times, October 4, 2011
The very idea that the United States Constitution prohibits Alabama's new requirement to record the legal status of enrolling students is laughable.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 1982 that states had to admit illegal immigrants to public schools because Texas could not show a "substantial state interest" in keeping them out. Whatever its merits, this ruling is in no way challenged by the new Alabama law. Illegal immigrant students would be admitted as before, but an accounting of their number is made to assess the costs of illegal immigration to taxpayers -- who are, after all, required by law to give up some of their personal property to support the schools. They have a right to know how it's being spent.
Some might argue that simply asking about legal status is tantamount to barring illegal aliens from the schools, since no one will want to confess to being an illegal alien. With illegal aliens filing tax returns and lobbying Congress, such a claim is not borne out by the facts. Living in the shadows? What shadows?
It is an entirely different question whether such a measure is good policy. Opponents would have more credibility if they weren't also against all measures to enforce immigration laws. In other words, one might be able to make a plausible case that much more important, and less inflammatory, is the new law's requirement that businesses use the online E-Verify system to check a person's information when filing the paperwork for a new hire; such a measure helps turn off the magnet of jobs that attracts illegal immigrants in the first place. But opponents of the schools provision are also against the rest of the law, which is just another way of saying they object to immigration law itself. Let's have that debate out in the open, instead of hiding behind school kids.