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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.

*Includes video of the subjects mentioned in the first article 

October 24, 2011

Some African-Americans in Alabama see HB 56 as “a giant step backwards”

Originally published in AOL Latino and La Opinión

Birmingham, Alabama – Illinois congressman Luis Gutiérrez has always said that the fight for immigration reform is a civil-rights issue for the immigrant community in the United States.

That community finds itself in dire straits in Alabama under its new law HB 56, which, even after a court ruling temporarily blocking some provisions from being enforced, continues to wreak havoc among families made up of immigrants, legal residents and citizens, and continues to affect the economy and the image Alabama is projecting to the country and the world. 

Gutiérrez was in Alabama over the weekend, presenting a united front with African-American leaders in the state—led by the NAACP—in the fight against the toughest anti-immigration law in the United States.

In the historic center of Birmingham, which saw much of the 20th-century civil rights movement, we encountered a diversity of opinion among African-Americans regarding HB 56. 

Some said that the situation the state’s immigrants face amounts to a civil-rights and human-rights crisis. Others said that what’s happening now can’t be compared to the fight for civil rights for African Americans, but everyone agreed that it’s morally wrong for persons who are just working for the betterment of their families to be criminalized and demonized to the point of having to flee the state. They also agreed that the law doesn’t make economic sense. 

In a barbershop which has been in operation for nearly 50 years, we talked to barbers and clients.

“Not only a civil rights but a human rights issue. It’s supposed to be the land of opportunities and you’re breaking up families, you’re destroying families. But not just immigrants. It’s also affecting the people they work for. To me, it’s a disgrace how they’ve handled this. It’ll result in racial profiling. And yes, it’s a civil rights crisis because a lot of civil rights will be violated because of this law,” said one of the patrons referring to HB 56.

“And with Alabama’s past, you’d think that they would shy as far away from that as possible, instead of trying to be the leader on something that is so unpopular. People have worked so hard to change the image of this state, and to me it’s a giant step backwards,”  he added.

Nor did he think that the jobs abandoned by immigrants fleeing HB 56 would be taken by U.S. citizens. “It won’t work. In agriculture, for example, that’s really hard work, it’s demanding, and to be honest, most people won’t want to do it or can’t do it.” 

And referring to republican State Senator Scott Beason, who championed the law, the customer added “It’s all politics…there’s always an agenda. Politicians have created more unemployment in this state than bringing in employment.” 

“It’s politics because they think that this segment of the population will (eventually) vote a certain way, and if you don’t want that, and if you can make them leave, it’s less likely that they’ll vote against you. Because I don’t think that the great Senator Beason cares one way or the other who’s working in the fields or who’s working in construction. And now, all of a sudden they (immigrants) are doing something wrong? No,” he said.

His conclusion: HB 56 is “a disgrace to the state.”

A retired teacher who now sells encyclopedias for a living commented that the way (HB 56) is structured, “it’s just a punitive kind of law, I just don’t think it’s fair.”

“I would agree to an extent, it has parallels (between the African-American civil rights movement and the immigrant movement’s fight today) for the people who are directly going through it that is similar. Now, being the descent that I am, maybe I wouldn’t completely latch onto it as close, but I think from a human rights stand point, I think that perhaps I should,” he said. 

The politicians who pushed for the law argue that their objective is to open up jobs for Americans. “I think that the real reasons, for the most part, are because of personal prejudices,” he allowed.

“People in political office, because they’re greedy, because their objective is keeping those offices, tend to say what they think people want to hear. It’s not good, but it happens.”

A young University of Alabama student added that HB 56 is “uprooting and displacing a lot of families. Their livelihoods are basically being crushed because they don’t have the proper papers. I disagree with how they came, but now that they’re here 10,12, 20 years in, there’s no way you can just tell somebody that they have to uproot their entire life and just go…I just don’t think it’s fair at all.”

Some people, he told me, think that passing the law was good politics, but for him it was “morally wrong.”

“I don’t think that it’s comparable to what happened during the civil-rights era, because they pulled out guns, hoses, dogs…, but I do feel is wrong.” 

But he added that it is a civil-rights issue “because they know who it will (HB 56) effect, who it will target the most, and hit the hardest, and that’s the Latino demographic here in Alabama.”

One of the barbers, meanwhile, said that “I used to have a lot of Mexican clients who left, and I miss them. I miss their money, and they’re good people. As an African-American, it broke my heart to see them have to go through what we had to go through.”

“I miss them. I know a lot of Mexicans. They work hard and I like them a lot. And I think that what’s happening is wrong,” he said.

Video #1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI_mOIF0PWw (America’s Voice YouTube Feed)

Caption: Patron inside a barber shop in Birmingham, AL shares his thoughts about the state’s new immigration law

Video #2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqC3LA8L_Ng (America’s Voice YouTube Feed)

Caption: Student from Alabama shares his thoughts about the state’s new immigration law 


Maribel Hastings

Senior Advisor, America’s Voice Education Fund


October 19, 2011

HB 56 and the Cab Driver

Originally published in Debate Latino, Unvision.com

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Our African-American cab driver summed up Alabama law HB 56 better than any activist or public official: it’s not an effective law from a humanitarian or economic standpoint, and with Alabama’s ugly history in matters of race relations and civil rights, it’s a shame that this is the image the state’s chosen to project to the rest of the country and the world.

A week after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked portions of HB 56 from being enforced while it hears the appeal against the law, it remains the central topic of any casual conversation. 

“I was born and raised in Alabama and I’ve seen it all, from the growth of the city of Birmingham to race relations…A lot of people died here fighting for civil rights. And it was all going pretty well for everybody until this thing came up against Latinos, and Mexicans who don’t have papers. That’s been causing a lot of problems,” he said.

“It’s creating unnecessary tension,” he added.

The racial segregation of the past has risen again, in the form of a law that tries to isolate the immigrant community so thoroughly that they’ll leave for other states.

But the cab driver thinks that what’s happened with HB 56 has its roots in a mix of racial and economic factors. Many people here resent, he says, “that there are people here who don’t speak English” but are able to access public services for their children who were born here and are U.S. citizens. 

And the economic outlook is so bad, he added, that the law’s authors sought a scapegoat—undocumented immigrants—to blame for the state’s economic woes. In fact, one of the arguments made by the law’s sponsors is that it will free up jobs for Alabama citizens, but that theory hasn’t been confirmed in practice.

“There’s a lot of that, but with the economy the way it is, the majority of jobs that Latinos are doing, neither African-Americans nor whites want to do…I don’t know if that’ll work, that the jobs Latinos are doing will be taken by citizens, but I know it doesn’t seem right to me. They’re migrant workers and if they’re good at what they do, then they’re good. They work hard in the cold and in the heat. This law isn’t good. It will affect the economy,” he said.

“I also don’t think the Constitution was designed so that states could be writing their own immigration laws. It’s a federal issue. There are already other states that are frustrated because they think the government isn’t doing enough to control immigration, but they don’t think these things will work. I don’t know what’ll happen, but I think it’ll go to the Supreme Court…I guarantee it.” 

The image that Alabama is showing to the country and the world is awful, he continued.

“Some people think Alabama is still segregated. That’s not true, though we do still have some issues to resolve. I still think that the bad economy is what made (the law’s authors) do this. And it’s crazy because I, as a cab driver, can pick somebody up, and if a policeman detains me and suspects that you guys, for example, don’t have documents, he can ask you and if it turns out you don’t have them, they can charge me of transporting undocumented immigrants. It’s insane. They’ve gone too far,” he concluded.

As we got out, he summed it up this way:

“It’s a bad image for Alabama, when we’re still trying so hard to get rid of the image we used to have.”


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.