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At Valentine’s Day Rally to Repeal HB 56, Latino Protestors Refused Entry to Alabama State House

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A spirited Valentine’s Day rally to repeal Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, HB 56, turned into a commentary on race and immigrant relations yesterday when hundreds of Alabamians showed up at the State House to protest, only to be largely turned away and prohibited from speaking to their legislators inside.

Alabamians from civil rights organizations, immigrant groups, faith communities, the labor movement, and other walks of life came out in force in Montgomery, carrying Valentine’s Day cards and signs professing messages of love for their home state.  Their intention: to visit their legislators in the State House and ask them to reconsider a repeal of Alabama’s monstrous anti-immigrant law, HB 56.

In a disturbing turn of events, however, many of the protestors were never able to make it inside: some white protestors were allowed to enter the State House, while their Latino counterparts were turned away.  In addition, access to legislators and even the galleries of the State House were severely restricted to the entire group due to new rules – agreed to just this morning – from officials designed to keep the people from their government.

“People don’t think this kind of thing happens anymore,” Joe Sudbay, a blogger who writes for AmericaBlog.  But apparently it does.

Protestor Carole Edmonds, a dentist with a practice from Boaz, Alabama and her friend, both of whom are white, were permitted to visit the offices of their Senators but several Latino protestors were denied the same access.  When Dr. Edmonds and her friend attempted to visit the same Senate offices a second time with several Latinos, they were told by security that while the white women could enter, while the Latinos who accompanied them could not.  This was after Dr. Edmonds made it clear that they were all there for the same reason.   

“This was an out and out case of discrimination,” said Dr. Edmonds. “The only difference between us was the color of our skin. This is our government, after all. They are accountable to all of us no matter what our racial background. As an Alabamian, I am ashamed. I thought our state was beyond this.”

Even the Latino protestors who were able to make it inside scarcely found anything to encourage them.  Victor Palafox, a young immigrant from Pelham, Alabama, entered the State House with his brother Jose, a high school honors student, and a couple of their close friends.  Upon encountering State Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R-Jefferson and Shelby), Palafox and his friends poured out their stories of how HB 56 has torn apart their families and their communities, how one of their mothers had to return to Mexico because she is undocumented and how Jose dreams of becoming a doctor even though his status prevents him from pursuing international opportunities.

McClurkin, despite initially appearing sympathetic, soon began to look impatient and eventually dismissed Victor by telling him that “I would like you to become a legal citizen so that you can do all these things that you aspire to do.”

Watch the video of their encounter below:

Jose, shaken by their encounter, said afterward, “After hearing the very personal stories of suffering her expression hardened and she just said “illegal is illegal.”  I may only be 15 years old, but I know that in the eyes of God I am her brother and deserve better than that.”

Yesterday’s Valentine’s Day rally is only the beginning of the renewed push to repeal HB 56 now that the state legislature is back in session.  Since implementation of the law began last fall, the state has suffered from numerous unforeseen consequences, leading even former supporters of the law to admit that the legislation needs revision.  A recent analysis conducted by an economist from the University of Alabama calculated that HB 56 could end up costing the state as much as $11 billion in lost economic output, and local papers continue to stand squarely against the law.

As Zayne Smith, coordinator of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice said, “The movement to repeal HB 56 is growing. The economic evidence is becoming clear as day that HB 56 is hurting all Alabamians.  It is time for a fresh start in Alabama- – it’s time for legislators to do what’s right and repeal HB 56.”

Visit the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice Facebook page for pictures from yesterday’s event.