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Top DOJ Official Hears Firsthand Accounts of Civil Rights & Humanitarian Crisis in AL

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As firsthand accounts continue to document the devastating effects of Alabama’s immigration law on undocumented and legal immigrants as well as U.S. citizens, the architect of the law is crowing, “that’s the point.”  Yesterday brought this contrast into sharp relief, as leading officials from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) heard stories about the civil rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in the state while the law’s backers made it clear that the devastation on the ground and immigrants’ exodus from the state was “an intended outcome of the law.”

As Elise Foley writes in Huffington Post, Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with other DOJ attorneys and staffers attended a community forum in Birmingham, AL and heard firsthand accounts of the law’s impact on immigrant communities.  Writes Foley, “Perez and panelists from local immigrant advocacy groups sat at a table at the school, several feet from a banner that said ‘Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month’ and listened as men and women in the room voiced their fears about the law.   Some immigrants said they were unsure how to get to work, because renewing their license plates would now require them to show immigration papers, and any traffic stop could now lead to an officer detecting them as undocumented.  Others said they feared sending their children to school, now that public schools might ask their children about their legal status.  Some asked whether they should flee the state, leaving their jobs and homes behind.”

Additionally, stories reported in The Guardian and elsewhere in recent days show how the law has injected fear and hostility into the most mundane aspects of daily life.  The paper describes the law’s impact on an Alabama resident with the pseudonym Isobel Gomez: “The day after the new law was upheld, Gomez saw three police cars driving around her housing complex, which is almost entirely Hispanic in occupancy.  Word went around that the police asked men standing on the street to go inside their homes or face arrest.  She took the mandate literally, and from that moment has barely set foot outside.”  As the paper quotes Gomez, “If they see me they will think I’m suspicious and then they will detain me indefinitely…They will see the colour of my skin.”

Meanwhile, at the State of Kansas Economic Policy Conference on the campus of the University of Kansas, state Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the leading architect of the spate of Draconian “papers, please” immigration laws in Alabama, Arizona, and elsewhere, admitted that the Alabama law is having the desired effect.  Said Kobach, “People are self-deporting.  People are picking up and leaving…You are encouraging people to comply with the law.”  The Wichita Eagle also reported that Kobach made the following comparison, reacting to a comment that we all have a shared role in both the current state of our immigration system and the need for a shared fix – “To say that everyone in this room is responsible for their behavior is like saying everyone in this room is responsible when a rapist goes off the rails.” 

“Stay classy, Kris,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund.  “To hear the pain that Alabama families are going through and compare immigrant families in search of a better life to rapists says all you need to know about the worldview of those behind this law.  No matter how they try to portray their arguments, what Kobach and other supporters aren’t discussing is the fact that the law is targeting and intimidating Latino residents of Alabama beyond just the undocumented immigrant population.  Mixed immigration status families and families comprised entirely of legal residency holders nonetheless feel that the law targets them.  Those defending this law should have to answer for this unfolding humanitarian and civil rights crisis.”

To echo Sharry’s point, The Guardian’s coverage demonstrates the law’s impact on legal, permanent residents of Alabama, including a taxi driver named Cineo Gonzalez, who “was shocked a few weeks ago when his six-year-old daughter came home from school carrying a printout.  It gave details of HB56 and its implications under the heading: ‘Frequent questions about the immigration law.’  Gonzalez is a U.S. permanent resident, having come from Mexico more than 20 years ago.  His daughter is an American citizen, having been born in Alabama.  Both are entirely legal.  Yet she was one of only two children in her class – both Hispanic in appearance – who were given the printout.  Why was she singled out, Gonzalez asked the deputy head teacher.  ‘Because we gave the printout to children we thought were not from here,’ came the reply.”  Gonzalez also told the paper that he has been receiving phone calls from Hispanic families asking how much it would cost to travel to such locations as Atlanta, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. 

Basically, anywhere but Alabama.  And according to Kris Kobach and his allies, that’s exactly the point.

America’s Voice Education Fund — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.