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Hey, Governor Bentley! HB 56 Does Remind Us of Alabama’s Racist History

by Pili Tobar on 10/24/2011 at 5:31pm

robert bentleyAs the devastating consequences of Alabama’s “papers, please” immigration law continue to unfold across the state, the governor who signed the bill into law appears to be blissfully unaware of the damage it is having on his state’s reputation. 

In an interview with the Associated Press, Governor Robert Bentley (R-AL) staunchly defended the state’s immigration law.  He also said that he has been avoiding most interview requests, because he does not want to become the face of the law and “add fuel to the fire across the country where people continue to look at Alabama in a negative light.”  Governor Bentley then went on to highlight the state’s recent success attracting foreign industries and to lament that Alabama’s reputation remains negatively tied to its civil rights history, saying “It’s going to take us a long time to outlive those stereotypes that are out there among people that Alabama is living in the ’50s and ’60s.”  

Really, Governor Bentley?  As Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund said:

Here’s some advice for Governor Bentley: if you want your state to become known as a welcoming environment for foreign companies and a beacon of diversity, don’t sign laws that divide society along racial lines, reinforce the state’s reputation as a bastion of intolerance, and target long-term residents who happen to be born abroad as ‘the other.’ 

And if you want your state to move past the ugly memories of the ‘60s, don’t sign xenophobic laws that underscore to the world how extremist Alabama still is.

Below are several developments that show why Alabama’s reputation is suffering due to Governor Bentley’s law: 

Bullying and Targeting of Latino Students:  The Birmingham News reports that bullying of Latino students – in many cases, American citizens –  is happening in schools across the state and is directly linked to the climate fostered by the state’s new anti-immigration law.  For example, Hector Conde, a U.S. citizen originally from Puerto Rico and now living in Autauga County, north of Montgomery, “was appalled when his 12-year-old daughter, Monica Torres, told him a schoolmate called her a ‘damn Mexican’ during a school bus ride.”  Said Conte, “She is a citizen. She doesn’t even speak Spanish…The culture being created (by the law) is that this sort of thing is OK.” 

Earlier this month, NPR interviewed a 16-year-old native-born U.S. citizen who reported getting teased by classmates at school, who jeered, “Are you going back to Mexico, man?” “It kinda makes me angry,” he told NPR, “but I can’t do anything about it. I can’t help the way I was born, the color skin that I have.”  

A State Inhospitable to Agriculture:  Alabama’s agriculture industry – a key plank of the state’s economy – is reeling from this self-inflicted wound and the fate of Alabama farms and produce hangs in the balance. 

As NPR noted this weekend:

Alabama farmers are facing a labor crisis because of the state’s new immigration law as both legal and undocumented migrant workers have fled the state since the strict new rules went into effect last month.  So far, piecemeal efforts to match the unemployed or work release inmates to farm jobs are not panning out, and farmers are asking state lawmakers to do something before the spring planting season.

The Birmingham News reported on the escalating outcry from agriculture representatives, including the reaction of Cody Ewing, of Jerry Marsh Farm in Locust Fork, Alabama, who said, “The government and legislators jumped in the street without first looking both ways.” 

Mark Krupinski, a family farmer in Foley, AL, noted his difficulty in attracting American workers and said, “That isn’t the kind of job most of us want to do…I don’t blame them for not wanting to do [it], but somebody’s got to do it if we’re going to keep eating for the price that we are eating at.” 

Meanwhile, Jeremy Calvert of Cullman, AL expressed worry over labor shortages and said, “Without a viable labor source we can’t survive.  When you’ve got payments to make and a family to feed and a farm and land that may have been in your family for 5 generations, there’s a lot on your shoulders.”

Civil Rights and Immigrant Rights Unite, Draw Parallels to 1960s Alabama:  Longtime congressional immigrant rights leader Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was invited to speak to the Alabama state NAACP convention this past weekend, bringing national attention to the civil rights crisis created by Governor Bentley’s new law. 

The Birmingham News reported:

Gutierrez headlined a group of speakers today during a rally at Fair Park Arena, where an estimated 3,500 people gathered to protest the state’s new immigration law.  Many speakers drew parallels between the legislation and the struggle for blacks’ civil rights in the 1960s.  Were it not for voices who fought for equality back then, Gutierrez said he and many others in Congress would not have a voice today. ‘We intend to do justice with that voice,’ he said.” 

As reported in BET, Anthony Johnson of the Birmingham Metro NAACP compared the immigrant community’s struggle in the face of the law “to what blacks once faced under segregation,” saying, “We must work together, we must pray together, we must fight together, until HB56 is repealed.” 

No, Governor Bentley, Alabama has not gotten past its troubling stereotype when it comes to civil rights.  Do you really wonder why?   

For more information on the effects of the Alabama immigration law, visit:

Quotes from Alabamians and a detailed explanation of the law (Center for American Progress)

Link to Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice

Link to Ten Things to Know About Alabama’s New Immigration Law

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