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Original Series on AL Immigration Law (Maribel Hastings)

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Below are two articles in a series on the Alabama anti-immigration law from Maribel Hastings, Senior Advisor of America’s Voice Education Fund.  These articles were originally published in Spanish on various outlets. To reprint, please credit the proper outlets.

*Pictures are also available for reprint at the end of each article

October 23, 2011

Gutiérrez: “Alabama is fertile ground for implementing the discretion policy in prioritizing deportations

Originally published in Spanish in Univision.com and AOL Latino

EUFAULA, Alabama – Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to halt deportations of immigrants without criminal records who  have been detained under Alabama law HB 56 while the courts consider the Department of Justice’s suit to declare the law unconstitutional. He also asked DHS to begin implementing its new policy of using prosecutorial discretion to consider which deportations to prioritize in the state.

“There are people right outside asking if (the regulations) are just a piece of paper, a way of trying to pacify the anxieties of the immigrant community, or whether they’re a real instrument, a real tool of justice. Here in Alabama we can determine if it’s an empty piece of paper–or if it’s a piece of paper full of justice for our community, and they won’t deport anyone picked up by the police and turned over to la migra (under HB 56),” the congressman told America’s Voice.

He has also sent a letter with the same requests to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton.

Gutiérrez came to Alabama to participate in a series of events. His first stop was here in Eufaula, a city an hour and a half from Montgomery, where he spoke at the NAACP Alabama State Conference Convention. The Alabama NAACP, the leading African-American organization in the United States, passed a resolution denouncing HB 56 for being discriminatory and encouraging the use of racial profiling.

The State NAACP presented a united front with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) against the harshest immigration law in the country.

“This is a mean-spirited law and we have to join forces and defeat it,” said Bernard Simelton, president of the state NAACP. “We’re doing everything we can to get the law repealed…to demonstrate to our politicians that the law is unconstitutional.”

Gutiérrez, chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and a national leader in the movement for immigration reform, expressed gratitude for the role the African-American community has played in the battle for civil rights for minorities—a fight, he added, that has been centered around Alabama and the South, and led “by great Americans like the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth,” the prominent civil-rights leader who died recently in Alabama.

“And all of us who today are fighting for civil rights, particularly those of us in the immigrant-rights movement, owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before us,” Gutiérrez said.

“When a group is persecuted, is discriminated against, as is happening today to immigrants, we are all at risk,” he said. “This law isn’t just anti-immigrant, but anti-Alabama,” referring to the effect the law has had on citizens and legal residents, its threat to the state’s economy, and the fact that it has reversed the advances the state has made on issues of equality and civil rights.

Afterward, the congressman stressed the significance of the NAACP’s support in the fight to reverse HB 56. 

“As Latinos and as immigrants, the first thing we have to do is thank all the members of the NAACP who gave their lives so that one day we would have a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act, and ask that as an institution they defend our people, as we will do for them,” he said.

“You don’t have to teach the NAACP what hate is, what discrimination is, what an abusive law looks like. They know it in their bones, and their reaction is to defend those who have no one to defend them. They have a long history of fighting for civil rights and human rights, and that’s why we’ve come here today.”

The congressman, together with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, took a central role in pressuring the Obama Administration to make the changes it has recently announced to exercise discretion in deportations, focusing on serious criminals and allowing officials to use their discretion in deciding how to schedule removals.

The irony is that under Alabama’s HB 56, police have the authority to ask anyone they come in contact with about their immigration status, as long as there is “reasonable suspicion” for doing so. Thanks to this, many immigrants detained in Alabama may end up placed in deportation proceedings because they were apprehended under a law whose constitutionality is being challenged by the Department of Justice.

Gutiérrez thanked the Department of Justice and President Obama for intervening to try to block HB 56, but added that “it seems contradictory and ironic to me that on one hand, the government is defending immigrants in court, and on the other hand, it’s letting those who embrace hate in Alabama complete their mission…You can’t on one hand denounce the laws in court and on the other hand satisfy the very point of the law, which is deportation,” Gutierrez maintained.

Alabama, he said, is fertile ground for implementing the discretion policy in prioritizing deportations. “The administration can implement, in a clear and unequivocal fashion, (the policy) that immigrants should be deported if they are criminals,” he concluded.

Later that day, the congressman headlined a rally in Birmingham against HB 56, where he pledged to return to Congress and report what he’d seen firsthand of the effects of HB 56 on Alabama’s immigrant community and declared that it is time for politicians to raise their voices to stop the law in Alabama and keep other states from following in its footsteps.

“If you’re a Hispanic congressman from Los Angeles, it’s time to raise your voice. If you’re a Hispanic congressman from New York, from Florida, from New Mexico, if you’re a Democratic congressman who believes in justice…it’s time to raise your voice in solidarity with the people from Alabama right now,” Gutierrez said at the rally, which was convened by radio station La Jefa.

“I’m going to insist that my colleagues in Congress come together to denounce this discriminatory law, because to stay silent is to allow them to act with impunity against our community, and we cannot tolerate that.”

Whole families came to the event together. So did those who have stayed in the state on their own, as their relatives have left for other states or their countries of origin.

“It’s encouraging that he’s come to us and lifted our spirits, because he shows up with all this energy and he’s teaching us that not all is lost, that there are still things we can do,” said one undocumented immigrant.

One undocumented mother with her young U.S. citizen daughter declared that “there are times that we feel completely without strength, but I thank God that every time more people come to join us.”

Photo #1: http://americasvoiceonline.org/page/-/hastings/gutierrez_in_eufaula.jpg

Caption: Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) at the Alabama NAACP State Conference in Eufaula, AL

Photo #2: http://americasvoiceonline.org/page/-/hastings/sign_hb56.jpg

Caption: Picture of a sign against HB 56 taken at a rally in Birmingham, AL where Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) attended.


Maribel Hastings

Senior Advisor, America’s Voice Education Fund



October 21, 2011

Even after temporary stay of HB 56 provisions, “it’s still the same”

Originally published in Spanish in Univision.com

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Despite the temporary stay of some provisions of Alabama law HB 56, fear persists in the state’s immigrant community. The law’s consequences continue to have palpable effects on thousands of families, including those of mixed immigration status—such as that of a young undocumented man we’ll call Ramón.

After sixteen years in the United States (fourteen of them in Alabama); working in restaurants; a six-year-long marriage to a young United States citizen and Alabama native; and fathering a native-born U.S. citizen child, now 15 months old, HB 56 has turned this young family’s life around 180 degrees.

The fear of being torn from his family led Ramon to quit his job and stay at home, leaving only for necessities. “I left my job because I don’t want anything to happen that would let them separate me from my daughter…No one has the right to take you from your family,” he said, as the child played in the living room of the house he’s lived in for almost seven years. The walls were covered with photos of the baby girl, and the floor with her toys.

He’s married to a citizen, but, since Ramón came into the country without papers, in order to receive legal status he’d have to leave the United States—which would automatically trigger a bar from reentering the country for, in his case, ten years. 

These “three- and ten-year bars” established by a 1996 immigration law affect tens of thousands of families. Instead of being able to get legal status here, undocumented immigrants need to apply in U.S. consulates abroad; one of the most common consulates is in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

This, like HB 56, would force the family apart. But the anti-immigrant law has complicated everything.
“Completely. When I was still working, my wife was always afraid I wouldn’t come home, and more importantly, back to my daughter. It completely changed the daily routine we’d had…Even going to the park is a very different thing. When they passed the law and they said that anyone who transported an illegal immigrant (would be detained), they’re not just hurting me but also my wife, because she could be on the road and they could stop us and they could detain her or charge her with an infraction for transporting an ‘illegal’—her husband. Everything changed, totally, completely,” he insisted.

That includes the family’s finances. Now the father stays home to take care of his daughter and his wife, who is a nurse, sometimes has to work two shifts—16-hour days—to cover household expenses.

“As the man in the house, I feel impotent not being able to do anything. I feel like they’ve taken away the only thing I could give to my family–whether or not it amounted to much economically, being the head of the household is very different from not being able to provide my family with at least something, like I did when I was working,” he acknowledged.

They’re considering leaving Alabama.

The temporary injunction of some parts of the law means nothing to him.

“The government of Alabama is very firmly opposed to the appeal, and I don’t see any positive solution from here for a long time to this law. People here are very closed-minded, I haven’t heard many people who are willing to people a chance who don’t have a criminal record and who are just working and have lived here for years,” he sighed.

In his opinion, racism against immigrants has always existed in Alabama, but the economic crisis led politicians to look for a scapegoat to blame for unemployment.

“People have always been opposed to immigration, legal or illegal. They’ve always said that immigrants don’t work, that they steal, that they sell drugs. But the immigrants I know work two or three jobs. They’re never at home. They’re always looking to move up,” he said.

“I wouldn’t know where to start, but I think that if people want to get this straightened out they should think about how they’re affecting not just immigrants, but whole families. My wife isn’t an immigrant, but she’s very much affected by the law.”

The immigrant community, he said, is between a rock and a hard place.
On one hand, Republicans, in Alabama and other states, are passing anti-immigrant laws.
And on the other hand, while the Department of Justice is currently trying to get the law overturned, the Administration and Congress aren’t working on an immigration reform bill that would help immigrants like him.

“After reform didn’t pass, a lot of states have been doing things like this. The fact that Obama didn’t even try to do something for the immigrant population hurt everything. I don’t know exactly how politics works, but I never saw any attempt to solve the problem, because the problem (for immigrants) isn’t just Alabama. The problem is national,” he concluded.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The subject mentioned in the story, requested anonymity, thus, *Ramon is an alias.

Photo: http://americasvoiceonline.org/page/-/hastings/ramon_with_child.JPG

Caption:  *Ramon holding his 15 month old native-born U.S. citizen child.


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.