MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Thousands of Latino children are being taken out of schools in Alabama. Families are seeking refuge in other states like Tennessee. This comes in the wake of Alabama’s new immigration law. The law states public schools can check the legal status of children and their parents, but will Tennessee follow suit?
"It's a sad day for the state of Alabama, for our country really because it's a step back," says Latino Memphis Director Maurico Calvo
Alabama's immigration law is considered the toughest in the country. Calvo fears Tennessee may be next.
"Tennessee is a southern state and it can be the next state trying to do something on that," Calvo tells abc24.com. "We're not going to be surprised if the legislation next session tries to do something similar. It'll be crazy but I'm sure they'll try."
More than 9,000 Latinos attend Memphis City Schools and that number keeps growing. Calvo says if Tennessee adopts Alabama's law it would be devastating.
"Most families in Memphis have children who were born here, so their parents may or may not have a legal status," he says, "but the children are U.S. citizens and that creates a problem."
University of Memphis Law Professor Steve Mulroy is not surprised states are taking immigration policy into their own hands, but says it's really a federal matter.
"Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform that combines tougher enforcement, limited amnesty and then get serious about enforcing it,” says Mulroy.
The U.S. government sued Alabama arguing the new immigration policy can only be set by the federal government. The state is also facing other legal issues.
"There are some pretty good arguments that the provision regarding children in public schools is unconstitutional because there is a prior Supreme Court case that says denying public education to the children of illegal immigrants is unconstitutional,” says Mulroy.
Mulroy believes if more states pass immigration laws, instead of Congress, it'll take away from local law enforcement fighting violent crime.
A federal judge says Alabama can continue to uphold its new immigration law while the U.S. Justice Department appeal works its way through the courts.
In Tennessee, a new immigration law will require all employers to use a federal system to check the immigration status of their workers starting in January. Mississippi adopted Arizona's immigration law the beginning of last year.