Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Campaign Seeks Repeal of Alabama’s Harsh Immigration Law

U.S. congressional leaders and pro-immigrant activists rallied here to demand the repeal of Alabama’s harsh immigration law, a measure one lawmaker said “deserves to be placed on the trash heap of history.”

Gathering Monday night at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, a center of the black civil rights struggle in the 1960s, lawmakers along with civic and religious leaders said that HB 56 does not belong in the United States of the 21st century.

The activists launched a campaign under the slogan “One Family, One Alabama,” promoted by the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, amid applause and the shouting of “Yes we can!” and “We are Alabama!”

More than 3,000 people gathered at the rally inside and outside the church as part of an incipient movement to end discrimination against Alabama’s undocumented, most of them Hispanics.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who led a delegation of congressmen, was received as a hero soon after the visiting lawmakers concluded a hearing at Birmingham city hall.

In a statement to Efe, both Gutierrez and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, said they will fight in the streets and in the courts until HB 56 is abolished.

“We can’t go back to the past, and we’ll fight until this law is annulled,” Gutierrez said, adding that the testimonies collected Monday will serve “to raise awareness about how harmful this law is.”

During the hearing, the legislators listened to testimonies from state officials, school administrators, parents, teachers, students and activists about the impact of the law, which went into effect Sept. 28.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) told Efe that the undocumented pay taxes and contribute to society and their persecution in Alabama is not only “dehumanizing” but also “a violation of civil rights and a humanitarian crisis.”

“It is a story that we have unfortunately seen in other times and must not be repeated,” Clarke said.

“HB 56 has devastated Alabama’s immigrant community. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this law has unleashed a human tragedy in Alabama,” Mary Bauer, director of legal affairs at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said.

The congressional delegation focused on the HB 56 provision that allows police to demand proof of legal status of anyone detained and which, according to activists, makes discrimination based on accent or physical appearance legal.

Such was the case of a German manager at the Mercedes-Benz auto assembly plant that has brought thousands of jobs to Alabama, who was detained last Friday because his rental car lacked the required license plate.

The executive was freed when he was able to show his driver’s license and his visa.

Federal courts have blocked several of the more controversial articles of HB 56 while their constitutionality is being reviewed – one of them requires public schools to ascertain the immigration status of new foreign students.

HB 56 has been criticized by businessmen who are losing employees and customers, and Republican state Sen. Gerald Dial is leading a group of legislators who are trying to modify the law, acknowledging that it “has had consequences we didn’t see coming.” EFE