Addressing Anti-Immigrant Laws, Racism, & Hate in Alabama
The past two months all eyes have turned their focus on Alabama after its passage of the most draconian anti-immigration bill in our recent history. Even after Judge Blackburn enjoined several sections of the law and the 11th Circuit Court enjoined several more, this law remains the toughest on record. These injunctions are temporary and the 11th Circuit Court will not hear the case until sometime in 2012. Senator Beason, one of the crafters of this law, has declared it a success because the intent was to have immigrants (legal and undocumented) voluntarily leave the state. And many have, leaving crops to rot in the fields and tornado ravaged communities left un-repaired. Catholic churches have been asked by their Diocese to document the loss of immigrant members. Catechism classes at one church in my town of Tuscaloosa have been reduced from 125 children before the law passed to 40 children after the law went into effect.
Governor Bentley, who signed this bill into law, announced the law is too complicated to enforce. He stated he is working behind the scenes with law enforcement and businesses to find ways to simplify the enforcement. Right now law enforcement is not consistent in routine traffic stops. Some police officers are asking only the driver for proof of status and some are asking every passenger in the vehicle. Businesses are closing because they are unable to renew their license with the state. International corporations are deciding to end negotiations of relocating firms to the state because of the stringent laws. Trailer park registrations are expiring and the owners are unable to renew because they are undocumented. Families are being torn apart. The law is not just complicated; it is devastating the health of communities on every level.
Here in Alabama, immigrant leaders and allies are organizing to make an all out push for repeal of this law. And we are doing this with the assistance of our national partners NDLON, Immigration Forum, and several others. For the past two weeks, these organizations and others have come to the state to assist the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) in building its capacity for training immigrant leaders and allies in organizing a state wide movement with the goal to repeal and/or disable HB 56. Leaders within the immigrant community are being trained to teach know-your-rights sessions to their communities and to have protocols in place to protect their children from being placed into state custody should a parent be detained. Allies are being trained in community organizing techniques to teach immigration 101 in as many communities as possible. Together we are building our base to support repeal of this law and to press forward, asking the federal government to streamline and create a humane process for immigrants to achieve legal status.
No one here believes that even if this law is repealed that the crisis will be over. The damage of this law in spawning and propagating racism has already been done. Racism has always been present in Alabama. So what this law has also done is jump start again the discussion on race and racism in our state. It has galvanized and solidified a movement that might otherwise have continued to languish by bringing together communities, immigrants and allies, including Unitarian Universalists, to work not only on the repeal of this law but the core underlying issues of racism and hate. Love is indeed surging through our efforts to deal effectively with this crisis.
As has been the case in Arizona, Georgia, and other states where such laws have been enacted or Secure Communities has been enforced, Unitarian Universalists are active in building the movement towards repeal. They have been assisting in organizing rallies across the state, active in the work of ACIJ, and helping to organize communities to respond to this law. The immigrant leaders are mobilizing to re-educate communities on the contributions immigrants have offered in some regions of Alabama for the last several decades. Our communities are enriched when there is a diversity of people present.
The Rev. Lone Broussard of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, a Danish-American, spoke with the Danish press to inform Denmark what is happening here. The eyes of the world are indeed focused on Alabama and what they are seeing are people coming together to Stand on the Side of Love.