Below is a guest post by Victor Palafox, a 19-year-old DREAMer and a leader of Alabama DREAMers for the Future. Since the state of Alabama began implementing its HB 56 immigration law in late September, Victor has watched the law profoundly affect his friends, family, neighbors, and community members. He shares his thoughts with us in the blog post and video below:
On June 9, 2011, Governor of Alabama Robert Bentley, with the support of the Alabama legislature, signed into law the now-infamous HB 56 immigration bill. Composed of social, political, and economic barbs, the law has completely changed life as we’ve known it for all undocumented immigrants throughout the state.
The effects of the law were immediate and could be seen first-hand. In my neighborhood, I remember an individual packing; I remember seeing a bright-red truck packed to the brim with furniture, bags of clothes, and various other miscellaneous items. Throughout the neighborhood, signs that indicated whether a house was for sale or for rent popped up in a matter of hours, and even people who had lived there for decades simply left. Many people asked what would happen to us, what would become of our families, what would become of all that we had worked for and earned in this country.
As an organizer, I have met immigrants from all different parts of the state. The pain here is something visible, something in the air, something in our hearts. You can be talking to someone, seeing them smile, hearing their laughter, and then watch that all dissipate as soon as you ask them about HB 56. This law doesn’t represent us, and it certainly doesn’t represent me. The view of many Alabamians is best summed up by a waitress I had the chance with to converse with one day:
“This [the law] is wrong!” she said. “People are people, and you shouldn’t treat them like that.”
I met a man who loves his state, loves his country, but most importantly, loves his wife. According to the state of Alabama, he fell in love with the wrong woman–an undocumented Salvadorian–and the state will do its best to punish them both for it. His wife cannot stand to live in Alabama for much longer, and when she leaves, he will leave with her. He will be forced to leave Alabama rather than allow a law to come between him and his wife. Truly, the most hateful part of HB 56 is how it turns ordinary individuals into lawbreakers for daring to have any contact with undocumented immigrants.
The effects of HB 56 are rampant. Schools are seeing students leave in record numbers, business owners are watching some of their best workers depart, and undocumented families are being broken apart. Alabama never had very many undocumented immigrants to begin with. Those who are leaving are those who have lived here for years. They are business owners, they are parents to American citizens, they are taxpayers who are investing in our state.
I remember one instance when I was driving home with one community leader. I vividly recall the desperation in his voice:
“Why is this happening, Victor?” he asked. “Why do I have to leave Alabama? I like Alabama! Why am I having to choose to leave or stay when I have given it all for this state?”
Since HB 56 was passed, all undocumented immigrants in this state are facing that decision. Will they stay in the state they have called home for decades? Or admit that they have nothing more to gain here, and everything to lose?
And of course, I have a small confession to make. I myself am an undocumented student. I am a high school graduate with a passion for classical guitar, and I do not have papers. My guitar tutor once intended for me to study classical guitar at a Georgia university, but I always knew that I would be unable to accept that offer because of the limitations that my legal status puts upon my future. Regardless of the fact that I was accepted into universities throughout the South, I am not in university. Yet I still consider myself a student: over the past months, I have learned things that I could never have learned in university, and those lessons will never leave me.
I am hoping to send one clear message: that we are all Alabama, we are all Arizona, we are all Utah, Georgia, and South Carolina. Fostering hope is the only way to maintain a direction of progress, to keep the wheels turning, and to keep the people moving forward.