More Melodramatic Coverage from Robertson of Alabama's Crackdown on Illegals

Campbell Robertson offered up more melodramatic coverage of Alabama's tough new immigration enforcement in his Friday New York Times story 'Critics See 'Chilling Effect' in Alabama Immigration Law.'

Robertson's October 4 report led off with an image that could have come from an M. Night Shyamalan movie: 'The vanishing began Wednesday night, the most frightened families packing up their cars as soon as they heard the news.'

The opening line to Friday's story sounds a lot like Robertson putting words in an illegal immigration opponent's mouth (the Times likes to cartoonishly characterize pro-enforcement sources as having their main goal in life merely to make life hard for illegal immigrants).

The champions of Alabama's far-reaching immigration law have said that it is intended to drive illegal immigrants from the state by making every aspect of their life difficult. But they have taken a very different tone when it comes to the part of the law concerning schools.

'No child will be denied an education based on unlawful status,' the state attorney general, Luther Strange, argued in a court filing.

The man who wrote the schools provision says the same thing, that it is not meant as a deterrent - at least not yet. It is, however, a first step in a larger and long-considered strategy to topple a 29-year-old Supreme Court ruling that all children in the United States, regardless of their immigration status, are guaranteed a public education.

The provision, which is known as Section 28, requires primary and secondary schools to record the immigration status of incoming students and their parents and pass that data on to the state.

Critics say it is a simple end in itself, an attempt to circumvent settled law and to scare immigrants away from school now, not at some point in the future. Weeks of erratic school attendance figures and a spike in withdrawals show that this has worked, they argue. And indeed, a federal appeals court on Oct. 14 blocked the provision pending an appeal by the Justice Department, though the court did not rule on the merits.

Deeper into the article, Robertson let on that perhaps those 'disappearances' perhaps aren't as profound as previously assumed by the law's opponents, and Robertson himself.

Whether the critics are correct in arguing that the law has created a 'chilling effect,' inducing families to pull their children out of school, is harder to measure than it may seem.

While daily absences by Hispanic students ranged as high as 5,143, or 15 percent of the Hispanic student population, they had dropped to 1,230 the day before the provision was blocked, said a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education (on a normal day, she said, around 1,000 absences can be expected). Statewide data has not been compiled as to how many students have fully withdrawn, though interviews in several districts suggest that number could be in the hundreds.