Hispanic students have started vanishing from Alabama public schools in the wake of a court ruling that upheld the state's tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration.
Education officials say scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from classes or kept them home this week, afraid that sending the kids to school would draw attention from authorities.
There are no precise statewide numbers. But several districts with large immigrant enrollments – from small towns to large urban districts – reported a sudden exodus of children of Hispanic parents, some of whom told officials they planned to leave the state to avoid trouble with the law, which requires schools to check students' immigration status.
The anxiety has become so intense that the superintendent in one of the state's largest cities, Huntsville, went on a Spanish-language television show Thursday to try to calm widespread worries.
"In the case of this law, our students do not have anything to fear," Casey Wardynski said in halting Spanish. He urged families to send students to class and explained that the state is only trying to compile statistics.
Police, he insisted, were not getting involved in schools.
Victor Palafox graduated from a high school in suburban Birmingham last year and has lived in the United States without documentation since age 6, when his parents brought him and his brother here from Mexico.