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Alabama’s Anti-Immigrant Law HB 56: American Kids Pay The Consequences

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By Maribel Hastings, America’s Voice Español:

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – The baby girl was born two days ago, weighing just 5 pounds 15 ounces. But just as she came into the world, her father was detained, possibly to be deported.

The mother, who is 20 years old and also undocumented, lay in her hospital bed wondering what to do: wait a few months to see if the situation for immigrants in Alabama gets any better, or simply return to her native Guatemala with her two children—both native-born American citizens.

“I don’t know how I’d do it. I just gave birth, I can’t just pick up and move. I don’t have anyone here. To stay here I need money so that we can pay rent and eat,” she said. Her 2-year-old son, also born a U.S. citizen, played in the hospital room. He seemed unaware of the uncertainty in which his mother lives, and his own uncertain future if she takes him and his baby sister back to Guatemala.

Her husband is a dishwasher in a restaurant. The circumstances of his detention and potential deportation are not yet clear.

“If there’s nothing I can do for my husband at this point, the only option I have is to go back to my country,” the woman said. She’s lived in the United States for five years.

Alabama immigration law HB 56 hasn’t just terrorized the state’s undocumented immigrants. Their children, many of them native-born U.S. citizens, are also suffering the consequences of the state’s torturous immigration politics.

It’s been widely reported that many undocumented parents have already opted to take their children out of public school, because the family had already fled for another state or was about to do so.

When we spoke with the young mother in the hospital, she was accompanied by her neighbors: a young couple who are also from Guatemala, also undocumented, with three U.S.-citizen children. The husband has been living in the U.S. for ten years; the woman has lived here for eight.

Their story is the same one heard all over the state: they don’t dare drive because they’re afraid of being detained; they think twice before going to the market to get food because they’re afraid of being detained; they’re afraid of going to the doctor because they’re afraid of being detained; they’re afraid to take their native-born U.S. citizen children to the doctor because they’re afraid of being detained. Even taking the kids to school has turned into a nightmare.

“Our daughter is still going to school, but we’re thinking about taking her out. The thing is, she’s afraid to go. Anything you do can be an excuse for them to detain you—and if you don’t do anything, they’ll make something up,” the young father said.

The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) is getting bombarded with calls and appointments from immigrants looking for advice on all kinds of issues. The biggest question for many immigrants: how they can grant legal power to relatives or neighbors to take care of their U.S. citizen children, or decide what to do with their property, if they’re deported.

“I already have a notarized document giving temporary power to the godmother of my son—he’s just seven years old—to bring him to Mexico for me if I get deported,” another young mother from Oaxaca, Mexico told us. She’s lived in Alabama for 11 years.

On Monday, five mothers—all of them white U.S. citizens—demonstrated in front of the federal district court against HB 56. They said that their partners, and the fathers of their U.S. citizen children, are undocumented—and could be torn from their families at any moment. If this happened, they added, their children would no longer be able to live on the economic support of their fathers; they would have to seek public assistance instead.

“If you don’t want to pay for our children, repeal the law,” one of the mothers said.

All day, we heard stories like this, first-, second- and thirdhand, about the panic and uncertainty that HB 56 has generated—not just among adults but among children, and many of them U.S. citizen children at that. But the day ended on an ironic note. Listening to the radio, we heard a commercial about the importance of religion and family values. At the end of the commercial, the announcer asked: What would Jesus do?