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Original Series on AL Immigration Law (Maribel Hastings)

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Below are the second two columns in a series on the Alabama anti-immigration law by Maribel Hastings, Senior Advisor with America’s Voice Education Fund.  These articles were originally published in Spanish on Univision.com and AOL Latino. To reprint the English versions below, please credit the proper Spanish language outlet. 

October 5, 2011

HB 56: Granting legal authority over children and property to others

Originally Published in Spanish on Univision.com

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – The panic continues. Yesterday, federal judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn refused to stop enforcement of immigration law HB 56 while her decision to let the worst provisions of the law stand is appealed by the Department of Justice and civil rights groups.

With this, fear continues to spread throughout Alabama’s immigrant community, as many have packed up and fled in terror to nearby and not-so-nearby states. Others prefer to weather the storm by staying as far underground as possible, leaving home only when strictly necessary. Others have chosen to take their children out of school, to avoid the risk that they’ll be asked about their immigration status—despite the fact that in theory, this provision is not supposed to apply to students who have already enrolled.

But undocumented or mixed-status families in Alabama have more in common than the panic that this immigration law has generated in the community.

Both types of families are also choosing to notarize documents to grant relatives or friends legal power to decide what to do with their children—many of them U.S. citizens—if their parents are detained and eventually deported. 

At first glance, it would seem that many of these families would be protected from deportation under the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations ordering immigration officials to prioritize deportations, as many are fathers and mothers with established community ties, many of whom have been living and working here for over ten years. Furthermore, many have children who are United States citizens.

Nevertheless, they’re taking steps to protect their children and belongings in case their worst nightmare—detention and deportation—becomes reality. 

“I’m trying to put on a brave face for my son, I’m shielding him from this atmosphere of panic we’re living in. I’m trying to be strong and reassure other mothers in my situation. But I’m afraid,” one young undocumented mother told me. The mother, born in Oaxaca, Mexico, would not give me her name. Her son is seven years old and a U.S. citizen, but he has no one else here: no father, no relatives.

“I prepared a notarized letter to give temporary authority to the godmother of my son, so that she can take him out of the country and bring him to me in Mexico in case I get deported,” she said.

“If it was just me and I got deported, well, I’d have to go back (to Mexico). But what future can I hope to give my son in Mexico, with so much violence and so much poverty? It’s complicated,” she added.

This young woman’s story is similar to the dilemma facing many of Alabama’s undocumented parents, who have been calling local groups in search of advice about what to do with their children or belongings if they get detained and put in deportation proceedings.

The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) says that a significant portion of the hundreds of calls and appointments they’re fielding on a daily basis come from parents asking what will happen to their kids if they are deported.

“They’re looking to obtain power of attorney so that someone else will be able to make decisions regarding their children or property in case of their deportation,” explained Victor Spezzini, lead organizer at HICA.

“We don’t have exact figures yet, but it’s one of the most frequent requests. Just as frequent are requests for an apostille, which is the official seal that’s added to birth certificates, and which would allow them to enroll their children in schools abroad if that were necessary,” he explained.

Last week, civil rights groups and the Department of Justice appealed Judge Blackburn’s decision to leave the most oppressive provisions of HB 56 in effect. They also filed a petition asking her to stay enforcement of the law while the 11th Circuit considers the appeal. That petition was denied, and the law continues to be enforced.

But Spezzini said that “even if the law’s ultimately blocked, that’s temporary.”

“We’re asking people to continue obtaining notarized letters of legal authority and apostilles anyway, because even if Alabama’s law is blocked, there are still federal laws, and there’s still ICE. So the risk remains,” Spezzini explained.

HICA’s office has been processing these cases ceaselessly, and yesterday was no exception.

One young man from Mexico City, who asked not to be identified, was trying to procure a letter not just for his two U.S. citizen children, but also for his assets: his house and a small construction business.

“It’s so my friend can send my children to Mexico if my wife and I are deported, and so he can take over the business I’ve put so much work into,” he explained.

“The white people who depend on my construction business told me that if I don’t have my papers in order, they’ll send me a paper they’ve signed so that they’re covered. They’re afraid because they depend on us for construction,” he said.

The initial panic has already changed many lives.

But the young woman from Oaxaca manages to remain optimistic.

“I’m going to see what happens, and if they don’t detain me soon, I’m going to wait. Because I have to keep earning a little money in case they do take me away. If I go to Mexico it’s not like I’m going to find work immediately. But in the end, God will always protect us,” she said.

Her farewell to us reflected the mix of fear and optimism with which she faced her situation 

“I hope we see each other again, if not here in Alabama, then at the Guelaguetza festival in Oaxaca,” she said as we parted.

Maribel Hastings

Senior Advisor, America’s Voice Education Fund


October 6, 2011

Salt in the wound: Judge refuses to issue temporary stay to Alabama law

Originally published in Spanish on AOL Latino

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – For Alabama’s immigrant families, yesterday’s refusal by federal judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn to issue a temporary stay to state law HB 56 is like salt in the wound.

Last night, undocumented parents, carrying their children, packed a Tarrant Elementary classroom for a “Know Your Rights” workshop on what to do if detained by the authorities, the first of its kind at this school. “Will it help if I carry my passport?” one father asked. “Should I have my notarized letter on me if they detain me?” a mother asked the workshop leader.

The anguish was evident among not only parents but teachers, who were indignant about “the persecution of these human beings who are just looking for a better life for their kids.”

One young couple from Ensenada, Baja California, listened attentively to the workshop. They’ve lived in Alabama for seven years. They have three children, but only the youngest is a native-born U.S. citizen. The oldest, 12 years old, has always made the honor roll at school, but now the family’s dream—that their children will receive an education and become professionals—is hanging by a thread. The parents didn’t even let their oldest son go on a field trip to the Space Museum in Huntsville—a trip he earned thanks to his good academic record—out of fear that he would be detained.

“We were confident that the judge would react less severely, that she would temporarily stay the law while they hear the appeal, but they broke the news to us that she didn’t,” the young father said with tears in his eyes. “We don’t have much time to think it over…maybe we can get our affairs in order here in two or three weeks and see what our options are, maybe moving to another state or straight to Mexico,” he added.

He’s taking precautionary measures: “I go alone to work and my wife stays at home, in case something comes up,” he said, referring to the possibility of being detained and deported.

Another young mother from Michoacán has a daughter who was born here, who was supposed to start school next year. She’s afraid that when the family goes to enroll her, school officials will identify her and her husband as undocumented.

“I’m terrified…if they were to detain me, I don’t know how long they’d be able to keep me in detention here, I don’t know if they’d take my children from me…we’re not all bad people, we’re not all criminals,” she said.

The godmother of her child, also from Michoacán, has lived in Alabama for four years. Her two daughters were born here.

“Moving to a different state has crossed our minds, but the same thing’s going to happen. If they allow it here, they’re going to allow it in other states,” she said.

But returning to Mexico, she continued, isn’t an alternative, “because the crime scares us too much.”

For the moment, they’ll stay in Alabama. “Every time we leave the house in fear, we cross ourselves, and we see if we come back home again,” she said.

“It’s very hard. We wanted to make another life for ourselves, but we’re not allowed. If they can’t stop it (the law) we’ll have to leave, but how horrible would that be? Because Latinos, Hispanics, we’ve also contributed to this country. We hope that their hearts will be turned and they’ll let us stay here, at very least for our children, who were born here. We want a better future for our children, not a life of crime in Mexico,” she concluded.

Maribel Hastings

Senior Advisor, America’s Voice Education Fund


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