Nafsa appeals to attorney general to protect right to education

The US attorney general has been asked by a senior higher education representative to intervene to tackle the “chilling effects” of anti-immigration laws at a state level.

October 8, 2011

Marlene Johnson, executive director and chief executive officer of Nafsa, the Association of International Educators, has written to Eric Holder asking him to “immediately take action” against the states of Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah.

The letter outlines concerns that local legislatures could hinder the educational opportunities of some immigrants, both at secondary and tertiary level.

Ms Johnson warns that the toughening of regulations risks creating a “patchwork of state-level immigration laws” that will create an atmosphere of fear among immigrants.

“This is not who we are as a nation,” she writes.

In July 2010, a federal judge intervened in the implementation of a bill signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer, which would have required state law enforcement agencies to make efforts to determine immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest” if there was “reasonable suspicion” that the person was an illegal alien.

In her letter to the Attorney General, Ms Johnson says that legal arguments made during the proceedings against the Arizona bill could equally be applied to the other four states.

“The power to regulate immigration is vested exclusively in the federal government, a constitutionally mandated responsibility that preempts the right of individual states to enact laws in this area,” she argues.

The state of Alabama recently overcame legal challenges to its own immigration bill, and schools within the public school system are now required to declare the suspected number of illegal immigrants studying at each institution.

Although the law does not bar the students from attending the schools, there has been a reported drop in the number of Hispanic students attending public schools.

Another measure in the original bill, barring illegal immigrants from attending public colleges or universities, was blocked by the federal district court.

Calling on the federal government to “reclaim its exclusive authority to establish and implement US immigration law,” Ms Johnson says that, traditionally, the US has been “in our values and our history, a welcoming nation”.

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com

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