A top U.S. Justice Department official warned Alabama’s education department that the state’s controversial immigration law has had “lasting” and possibly illegal consequences for Hispanic school children, according to a letter released Thursday.

“(The law has) diminished access to and quality of education for many of Alabama’s Hispanic children, resulted in missed school days, chilled or prevented the participation of parents in their children’s education, and transformed the climates of some schools into less safe and welcoming spaces for Hispanic children,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the federal department’s Civil Rights Division.

The legislation, known as HB 56, has several provisions, including one requiring police who make lawful traffic stops or arrests to try to determine the immigration status of anyone they suspect might be in the country illegally.

A federal appeals court has blocked some components, however, including one requiring Alabama officials to check the immigration status of children in public schools.

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He [Perez] points to data provided by Alabama officials that, he says, shows that “Hispanic students absence rates tripled while absence rates for other groups of students remained virtually flat.” That includes a sharp drop in those getting schooling through English as a second language programs, meaning they did not “receive the educational services to which they are legally entitled.”

Perez also writes that “the rate of total withdrawals of Hispanic children substantially increased,” with 13.4% of such children having dropped out between the beginning of the current school year and this February.”

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One of the bill’s authors, state Sen. Scott Beason, defended the idea of checking students’ legal status.

“I think it’s important that we gather that data,” said Beason, a Republican like most of the members of the state’s legislature. “I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with collecting the data, and I think the courts will agree.”

Nearly 99% of all Alabama K-12 public school students are U.S. citizens, said Perez.

And many of those of Hispanic origin feel “unwelcome in schools they had attended for years,” he added, basing these comments on interviews with students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Many reported “being singled out to receive notices or attend assemblies about HB 56,” as well as “increased anxiety and diminished concentration in school, deteriorating grades and increased hostility, bullying and intimidation,” said the civil rights division chief.

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