The Alabama chapter of the NAACP hosted a town hall and panel discussion today, giving the immigrant community a chance to ask questions about Alabama’s monster immigration law and how it might affect them. Shortly after the panelists introduced themselves, it was announced that Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, would address the crowd. His five minute pitch in both English and Spanish informed attendees that the Department of Justice was in Alabama to listen to and learn from members of the community about HB 56. “Again,” he said, “our goal is to learn from you.”
Specifically, Perez emphasized that the law limits a child’s right to an education, saying “one of the rights that exists in the United States — that was a right estabilished and confirmed by the United States Supreme Court almost 30 years ago — is the right for every person who is present in the United States to attend public school regardless of immigration status.”
As we know, HB 56 turns teachers into immigration enforcers. Since the law’s implementation last week, students of immigrant origins are staying at home out of fear. “We want to hear more about some of the challenges that you have been encountering,” he said, adding, “We’re not only looking to listen and learn about the challenges that you have encountered in school, but we want to know about other potential challenges that may raise the implications under civil rights laws.”
Watch Tom Perez address the crowd of Alabamians:
One man questioned why Alabama legislators would pass such a law, wondering aloud whether it meant Latinos and other immigrants are unwelcome in the state.
“Can anyone tell me the motives behind this law?” he said, according to someone in the room. “We like it here, and we just don’t understand why they don’t like us.”
For the most part, DOJ officials simply listened, taking notes on the concerns raised. They stuck around after the meeting to talk to community members directly, and plan to meet with more on Friday.
Yesterday, the Department of Justice also announced a toll-free phone number and email address for those residents of Alabama who want to report abuse or have any questions about the immigration law. Residents of Alabama can reach the Department of Justice by either calling 855-353-1810 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.