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Joey Kennedy on the Response to HB 56, Alabama’s Immigration Law

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joey kennedySince the implementation of the Alabama immigration law, our team here at America’s Voice has been rotating through the Yellowhammer State, helping to organize a humanitarian response and collecting stories about how normal families have been affected by this monstrosity of a law.

One of our most pleasant encounters so far has been with Joey Kennedy, an editorial writer, columnist, and blogger for the Birmingham News.  A Pulitzer Prize winner and professor at the University of Birmingham, Kennedy—and his newspaper—have been fierce and dogged critics of the immigration law, drawing so much uncomfortable attention to HB 56 that readers have asked him to stop mentioning it.

Kennedy—who apparently starts working at 5 am every morning—spoke with our Political Director last week about what the organizational response to HB 56 has been, and quipped that “outside agitators” were clearly “invading Alabama again”.

Here’s an excerpt of his column from yesterday:

These “outside agitators” are various public interest groups, community organizers and courageous individuals who want to offer support to what remains of the state’s Hispanic immigrant community struggling in the wake of Alabama’s heavy-handed immigration law. They’re here to help teach those who oppose the law how to push back.

Alabama, with the most severe, backward-looking immigration law in the nation, once again is being portrayed as intolerant, ugly and mean-spirited.

This weekend, the “agitators” are meeting in Albertville to talk strategy. Other gatherings are planned, and the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice is ramping up support to have this draconian law repealed.

Also on the scene — as it has been for a while — is America’s Voice, an advocacy group for what it calls “common sense immigration reform.”

“Alabama is special, in that a lot of the worst rhetoric became real,” says Adam Luna, America’s Voice political director. “In Arizona, it’s pretty bad. In Georgia, it’s pretty bad. In Alabama, it’s worse.

“And the rhetoric makes (Alabama) a little more special because of the history of the state,” adds Luna, a San Diego, Calif., native.

We cannot hide from our ugly, unfortunate history. It is there for the nation and world to see. We, therefore, need to learn from that history.

Yet, the so-called Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, or HB 56, or Alabama’s anti-immigrant law — whatever you want to call it — shows the world we are, indeed, slow learners.

“I think (the state’s history) is a part of the reason why it’s grabbed the attention of so many civil rights organizations and folks around the country,” Luna says. “It’s so plainly obvious, the horrific toll that something like this takes on communities, and there’s just no way to get around it.”

Luna and his colleagues have been in Alabama off and on for weeks, collecting stories from immigrant families, both documented and undocumented. Luna speaks of students not showing up for school and families afraid to leave their homes.

This fear is real.

“One of my colleagues has been going around the state to really talk to folks,” Luna says. “He’s met mixed-status families all over the place: U.S.-citizen children who are terrified; a woman married to an undocumented man, and they have children. They ask, ‘What am I supposed to do here?’ That’s the reality of these things. It’s pretty gross.”

So groups like Luna’s are helping Alabamians who oppose the law figure out what to do. He’s quick to point out that other groups — the Center for Community Change, for example, and national immigrant, civil rights and legal rights organizations — are doing most of the heavy lifting, along with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.

“I think these organizations that are more closer to the ground in helping communities find their voices, I consider them first,” Luna says. “Our role in Alabama is to be more supportive.”

Luna doesn’t know what organized opposition to the law will end up looking like. But he is surprisingly optimistic.

“Now that they are seeing what the law looks like, maybe the history of the state has taught leaders that just because you go down this road, you don’t have to stay down this road,” Luna says.

Alabama’s history “of reconciliation and renewal is important. Maybe that history will play a role here, too.

“Alabama has a chance to be different in the extreme nature of this legislation, and it is clear that it is,” Luna says. “But maybe it has a chance to be different on the other side of things, too.”

A chance, yes, but can we find the courage to take it?