Instead of acknowledging that the Supreme Court has upheld every child’s right to a public education regardless of immigration status, and that the new law requires schools to collect the information that the government was seeking, Mr. Strange sent Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division, an ultimatum.

”I was perplexed and troubled to learn that you have personally written to Alabama’s school superintendents demanding information related to the pending litigation,” he wrote. “Your letter does not state your legal authority to demand the information or to compel its production. If you have such legal authority, please provide it to me by noon Central Standard Time on Friday, November 4, 2011. Otherwise, I will assume that you have none and will proceed accordingly.”

Mr. Perez’s reply, sent Friday, was to the point. He cited Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act. He also reminded Mr. Strange of an array of other laws that federal agencies would be considering when investigating possible violations in Alabama: the Fair Housing Act, the Safe Streets Act, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, “among others.”

The Editors of The New York Times, “Standing in the Schoolhouse Door”