America's Voice En Español »
This is the eighth column in a series on the Alabama anti-immigration law by Maribel Hastings, Senior Advisor with America’s Voice Education Fund:
Originally published in Spanish in Univision.com
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Despite the temporary stay of some provisions of Alabama law HB 56, fear persists in the state’s immigrant community. The law’s consequences continue to have palpable effects on thousands of families, including those of mixed immigration status—such as that of a young undocumented man we’ll call Ramón.
After sixteen years in the United States (fourteen of them in Alabama); working in restaurants; a six-year-long marriage to a young United States citizen and Alabama native; and fathering a native-born U.S. citizen child, now 15 months old, HB 56 has turned this young family’s life around 180 degrees.
The fear of being torn from his family led Ramon to quit his job and stay at home, leaving only for necessities. “I left my job because I don’t want anything to happen that would let them separate me from my daughter…No one has the right to take you from your family,” he said, as the child played in the living room of the house he’s lived in for almost seven years. The walls were covered with photos of the baby girl, and the floor with her toys.
He’s married to a citizen, but, since Ramón came into the country without papers, in order to receive legal status he’d have to leave the United States—which would automatically trigger a bar from reentering the country for, in his case, ten years.
These “three- and ten-year bars” established by a 1996 immigration law affect tens of thousands of families. Instead of being able to get legal status here, undocumented immigrants need to apply in U.S. consulates abroad; one of the most common consulates is in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
This, like HB 56, would force the family apart. But the anti-immigrant law has complicated everything.
“Completely. When I was still working, my wife was always afraid I wouldn’t come home, and more importantly, back to my daughter. It completely changed the daily routine we’d had…Even going to the park is a very different thing. When they passed the law and they said that anyone who transported an illegal immigrant (would be detained), they’re not just hurting me but also my wife, because she could be on the road and they could stop us and they could detain her or charge her with an infraction for transporting an ‘illegal’—her husband. Everything changed, totally, completely,” he insisted.
That includes the family’s finances. Now the father stays home to take care of his daughter and his wife, who is a nurse, sometimes has to work two shifts—16-hour days—to cover household expenses.
“As the man in the house, I feel impotent not being able to do anything. I feel like they’ve taken away the only thing I could give to my family–whether or not it amounted to much economically, being the head of the household is very different from not being able to provide my family with at least something, like I did when I was working,” he acknowledged.
They’re considering leaving Alabama.
The temporary injunction of some parts of the law means nothing to him.
“The government of Alabama is very firmly opposed to the appeal, and I don’t see any positive solution from here for a long time to this law. People here are very closed-minded, I haven’t heard many people who are willing to people a chance who don’t have a criminal record and who are just working and have lived here for years,” he sighed.
In his opinion, racism against immigrants has always existed in Alabama, but the economic crisis led politicians to look for a scapegoat to blame for unemployment.
“People have always been opposed to immigration, legal or illegal. They’ve always said that immigrants don’t work, that they steal, that they sell drugs. But the immigrants I know work two or three jobs. They’re never at home. They’re always looking to move up,” he said.
“I wouldn’t know where to start, but I think that if people want to get this straightened out they should think about how they’re affecting not just immigrants, but whole families. My wife isn’t an immigrant, but she’s very much affected by the law.”
The immigrant community, he said, is between a rock and a hard place.
On one hand, Republicans, in Alabama and other states, are passing anti-immigrant laws.
And on the other hand, while the Department of Justice is currently trying to get the law overturned, the Administration and Congress aren’t working on an immigration reform bill that would help immigrants like him.
“After reform didn’t pass, a lot of states have been doing things like this. The fact that Obama didn’t even try to do something for the immigrant population hurt everything. I don’t know exactly how politics works, but I never saw any attempt to solve the problem, because the problem (for immigrants) isn’t just Alabama. The problem is national,” he concluded.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The subject mentioned in the story, requested anonymity, thus, *Ramon is an alias.