RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A bill that would require principals to keep track of illegal immigrants in their schools would intimidate parents and likely run afoul of federal law, opponents told a legislative panel on Tuesday.
Members of the public spoke against a bill introduced by Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, who says the legislation wouldn't bar anyone from attending school in North Carolina, but would be important for determining the costs of illegal immigration to the state.
"In this building, we're having to make decisions about who gets money and who doesn't," Folwell said. "The people of this state deserve to know what their public education dollars are going for."
The House Education Committee, which is considering the bill, didn't vote on the measure Tuesday. Chairman Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Rockingham said members would want to hear from the public and take time to think over the legislation first.
None of the nine people who spoke Tuesday were in favor of the legislation, including Ann McColl, a representative for the State Board of Education, who said the bill would risk putting school districts in the position of having to violate federal law.
"It truly is the role of educators to educate whoever comes through the door," she said.
In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all children are entitled to a public education, including children who are in the U.S. illegally. Earlier this month, the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights sent out a letter warning school districts not to let enrollment policies lead to the exclusion of students based on their immigration status.
"You must ensure that you do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and that students are not barred from enrolling in public schools at the elementary and secondary levels on the basis of their own citizenship or immigration status," the letter reads.
Folwell's bill would require principals to ask the parents of new students to say whether the child is a U.S. citizen, and if not, to give the student's immigration status. The language of the bill says the information will only be used for fiscal analysis, and not to deny admission to any student. The bill would also require parents to provide immunization records for their children.
"This is a very serious problem," Folwell said. "We must get our arms around the unfunded mandate of illegal immigration in this state."
But critics said the unintended consequence of such a law would be a chilling effect on immigrants, with some parents likely opting not to enroll their children in school at all.
Viridiana Martinez, 24, of Durham said she came to North Carolina with her parents when she was in second grade, and graduated from high school here. Had such a law existed when she was in school, she said, "I would not have felt safe. I would have felt targeted."
Immigration has become an increasingly heated topic in North Carolina, especially regarding immigrants from Latin American countries. The most recent U.S. Census data shows that the Latino population of North Carolina roughly doubled in the last 10 years, to more than 800,000, although estimates of illegal immigrants are difficult to make.
Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, charging that Durham schools are discriminating against Latino students by providing inadequate resources, a charge the school district denies.