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HB 56 and the Cab Driver

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taxicabThis is the sixth column in a series on the Alabama anti-immigration law by Maribel Hastings, Senior Advisor with America’s Voice Education Fund:

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Our African-American cab driver summed up Alabama law HB 56 better than any activist or public official: it’s not an effective law from a humanitarian or economic standpoint, and with Alabama’s ugly history in matters of race relations and civil rights, it’s a shame that this is the image the state’s chosen to project to the rest of the country and the world.

A week after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked portions of HB 56 from being enforced while it hears the appeal against the law, it remains the central topic of any casual conversation.

“I was born and raised in Alabama and I’ve seen it all, from the growth of the city of Birmingham to race relations…A lot of people died here fighting for civil rights. And it was all going pretty well for everybody until this thing came up against Latinos, and Mexicans who don’t have papers. That’s been causing a lot of problems,” he said.

“It’s creating unnecessary tension,” he added.

The racial segregation of the past has risen again, in the form of a law that tries to isolate the immigrant community so thoroughly that they’ll leave for other states.

But the cab driver thinks that what’s happened with HB 56 has its roots in a mix of racial and economic factors. Many people here resent, he says, “that there are people here who don’t speak English” but are able to access public services for their children who were born here and are U.S. citizens.

And the economic outlook is so bad, he added, that the law’s authors sought a scapegoat—undocumented immigrants—to blame for the state’s economic woes. In fact, one of the arguments made by the law’s sponsors is that it will free up jobs for Alabama citizens, but that theory hasn’t been confirmed in practice.

“There’s a lot of that, but with the economy the way it is, the majority of jobs that Latinos are doing, neither African-Americans nor whites want to do…I don’t know if that’ll work, that the jobs Latinos are doing will be taken by citizens, but I know it doesn’t seem right to me. They’re migrant workers and if they’re good at what they do, then they’re good. They work hard in the cold and in the heat. This law isn’t good. It will affect the economy,” he said.

“I also don’t think the Constitution was designed so that states could be writing their own immigration laws. It’s a federal issue. There are already other states that are frustrated because they think the government isn’t doing enough to control immigration, but they don’t think these things will work. I don’t know what’ll happen, but I think it’ll go to the Supreme Court…I guarantee it.”

The image that Alabama is showing to the country and the world is awful, he continued.

“Some people think Alabama is still segregated. That’s not true, though we do still have some issues to resolve. I still think that the bad economy is what made (the law’s authors) do this. And it’s crazy because I, as a cab driver, can pick somebody up, and if a policeman detains me and suspects that you guys, for example, don’t have documents, he can ask you and if it turns out you don’t have them, they can charge me of transporting undocumented immigrants. It’s insane. They’ve gone too far,” he concluded.

As we got out, he summed it up this way:

“It’s a bad image for Alabama, when we’re still trying so hard to get rid of the image we used to have.”

Cross-posted at Left in Alabama and Daily Kos.

Read Maribel Hastings’ other columns on Alabama here.