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Not-So-Sweet Home Alabama

What People Are Saying About the State’s New Immigration Law

SOURCE: AP/Dave Martin

Kassi Cruz picks tomatoes in Steele, Alabama, on October 3, 2011. Cruz decided to pitch in to help after the majority of migrant workers left after the new Alabama immigration law took effect last week.

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Alabama has reawakened the ghosts of Bull Connor and George Wallace by enacting the most extreme anti-immigrant legislation in the nation (H.B. 56), igniting a civil rights, humanitarian, and moral crisis.

Below are voices and examples of the fallout from H.B. 56′s implementation.

On October 14, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the request for an emergency stay of the controversial H.B. 56 anti-immigrant law. The court’s ruling takes a partial step in ameliorating the harm of the ill-conceived Alabama immigration law by enjoining the provisions that essentially made it a crime to be undocumented and the provision that required schools to ask their students for immigration papers.

The court left intact much of the law, however, including the provision that requires police to verify the immigration status of people they stop and “suspect” are here illegally. The court upheld the provision making it a felony for undocumented immigrants to contract with any governmental entity. Among other things, that means it is a felony for undocumented immigrants to get running water in their house or apartment. The court also allowed the provision to remain that prevents undocumented immigrants from enforcing virtually all contracts, essentially permitting the wholesale exploitation of undocumented individuals. In an appeal filed with the Atlanta-based appeals court on November 14, the Department of Justice further argued that “The Constitution leaves no room for such a state immigration-enforcement scheme.”

The clearly unconstitutional “no contracts” provision is already beginning to come apart at the seams. On October 24, Alabama Circuit Judge Scott Vowell issued an opinion that suggested that the provision may violate the Alabama state constitution. The state constitution requires that no law impairs “the obligation of contracts by destroying or impairing the remedy for their enforcement.” As it turns out, state officials will not only have to defend their immigration law in federal court, but also at home.

As examples of these harsh effects are starting to become apparent and the economic impacts of the law are beginning to add up, more and more people inside and outside of Alabama are speaking up. Recognizing several “unintended consequences” of the bill, Alabama state senators are beginning to suggest amendments to H.B. 56.

Tom Perez, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice has visited Alabama to assess the situation. DOJ has set up a hotline (855-353-1010 or hb56@usdoj.gov) to collect reports of rights violations and has put attorneys and staff on the ground to monitor implementation of the law while the legal challenge continues. Perez and the DOJ have also requested student-enrollment data from a number of Alabama schools after receiving complaints in Alabama that suggest schools may have violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other equal rights laws.

Alabama and national leaders will gather at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 21 to launch the “One Family, One Alabama” campaign to oppose H.B. 56.

New voices speak up against the law

President Barack Obama:

“It’s a bad law. The idea that we have children afraid to go to school, because they feel afraid that their immigration status will lead to being detained … it’s wrong. We’re already seeing the impact in some school districts and high schools, where 20 or 25 percent of children aren’t going to class.”

Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL-7):

"I know we’re bigger and better than this immigration law has made us appear. I look forward to redeeming that which is good about Alabama."

Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville):

“I think that [requiring schools to verify the status of students] was one of the worst things that was put in the bill. That may be a point of contention but I am for taking that out. Teachers and educators have enough to contend with today."

"I made some mistakes in voting for the bill as it was, and I’m big enough to admit it.”

Sen. Slade Blackwell (R-Jefferson and Shelby Counties):

“The longer the bill has been out, the more unintended consequences we have found. All of us realize we need to change it.”

Sen. Billy Beasley (D-Clayton):

“What we’ve done is tell Hispanics we don’t want you in Alabama. Legal Hispanics are leaving as well as illegals.”

Mayor Sheldon Day, mayor of Thomasville, Alabama, who believes competing states are mentioning H.B. 56 to foreign companies considering possible plant sites:

“It’s bringing back old images from 40 or 50 years ago.”

Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

“Alabama’s law really represents a new frontier in the struggle for civil rights.”

Jay Reed, president of the Alabama Associated Builders & Contractors:

“If those Alabamians on unemployment continue to not apply for jobs in construction and poultry, then [Republican politicians] are going to have to help us continue to find immigrant workers. … and those immigrant workers are gone.”

Don Logan, retired Time Inc. CEO and owner of the Birmingham Barons:

Speaking of the Jefferson County bankruptcy and H.B. 56: “I just wish we would stop shooting ourselves in the foot so much. We don’t need any more bad publicity.”

Randy Rhodes, president of Harvest Select, which has a catfish processing plant in Uniontown, Alabama:

“Somebody has to figure this out. The immigrants aren’t coming back to Alabama—they’re gone. I have 158 jobs, and I need to give them to somebody.”

David Bronner, CEO of Retirement Systems of Alabama, the pension fund for employees of the State of Alabama:

“Alabama needs growth, and we need people to maintain growth. … if the Hispanic feels he’s not welcome, the Chinese will think the same thing, then the Japanese and the mathematician from India, especially when you can go 50 or 100 miles and not have to put up with it."

James Pilgrim, owner of a mobile home park in Birmingham, Alabama:

“It affects me in that some of them are just like my own family, and my heart is broken to think that I might never see these people again.”

“They were just good, hard-working families. They were here to try and make a living for themselves and their families and to try and help their families back home working hard, long hours, many times, and good, law-abiding, respectable people. But they were afraid the state might come down on them.”

Tyrone Belcher, sitting member of Birmingham Board of Education:

"This is horrible. We blacks have gone through this. We built this country on freedom. And Beason can sit around with that grin, but he ain’t fooling me."

Emanuel Ford, sitting member of Birmingham Board of Education:

“If this isn’t racism, if this isn’t Jim Crow, this is a disgrace before God. I can’t believe that in 2011, we would do something so blatant."

Janice Sawyer, 63, Alabama farmer:

"If I see any of the senators who voted for this, I’ll tell ‘em, ‘You may be going hungry soon.’ Or those senators may be buying their food from China."

Lee Fitch, watermelon farmer:

“I probably can’t find anybody else, so that would be it. … no more watermelons, not on my farm.”

Brenda Loya, AFL-CIO Media Affairs:

“With the passage of H.B. 56, Alabama has taken a huge step backward, into the 1950s. Today, an African American delegation of labor and civil rights leaders traveled to Birmingham, Ala., to help shed a light on what is seen as one of the harshest immigration laws in the country and how it invokes inhumanity reminiscent of the Jim Crow South.”

Wayne Flynt, historian, Auburn University:

“This is just mean-spirited. This is finding the most vulnerable people within a society, people who can’t vote, most of them are women and children, they have no political power, and so, in a sense, it’s like the blacks in 1963 who could not vote in Alabama.”

Angel Enriquez, undocumented immigrant, escaped Alabama to Florida but visits his U.S. citizen wife and 1-year-old daughter who remain in Alabama every weekend:

“I don’t want anything more to do with Alabama. They beat me down in Alabama. I don’t like the discrimination there. But I’ll start over again here in Florida and go forward.”

Bill Bounds, manager of a mobile home park in Birmingham, Alabama:

“They’re scared to drive, scared to go to the store. I had a lady ask me to go to the post office, a family I went to the grocery store for. And there are people who are afraid to go to the hospital. A lot of them are scared to death. I even had one family come to me and ask me if I’d adopt their daughter. They’re afraid if they get caught, she’d end up having to go to Mexico. … I think it’s going back to George Wallace days. Alabama just shifted back 100 years since this law took effect.”

David Smolin, an expert on constitutional law, professor of law at Cumberland School of Law, Samford University:

“It is not discrimination, they say, because ‘these people are illegal.’ From a constitutional standpoint, these arguments amount to state government vigilantism. … worse still, the Alabama Legislature has forcibly enlisted schools, the DMV and even libraries in this vigilante enforcement of federal law.”

Vanzetta Penn McPherson, retired U.S. magistrate judge:

“Given the impossibility of filling the jobs formerly held by Hispanics — at times paying over $100 per day in a state with an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent — the Alabama Legislature has become 2011′s biggest job killer.”

“Sen. Beason may regret his recent characterization of post-enactment problems as ‘hiccups.’ Farmers and chicken processors across the state have spent the past month hiccupping. Now they are choking, and death — of their crops and businesses — may be imminent.”

Birmingham News editorial board:

“Regardless what one thinks of the national media’s criticism of Alabama’s immigration law, one would have to be in complete denial to believe the brouhaha isn’t creating a difficult climate for state business recruiters. When Alabama competes with other states for new industry, don’t think for a second those competitors aren’t pointing at the state’s immigration law and how intolerant it makes Alabama appear.”

Andrew Rosenthal, political commentator and overseer of The New York Times editorial board:

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Elected officials in Southern states barring the schoolhouse door, shaking their fists at the federal government over civil rights, the Constitution and their right to oppress minority groups without Washington’s meddling. In our time, the great fight against racist policies is over immigration reform.”

Father Tom Ackerman, Catholic Diocese of Birmingham:

“I think there was some surprise about how extreme it was and how really sort of vicious it was, particularly some of the vicious rhetoric: ‘We want to affect every aspect of their lives. I’ll do everything short of shooting them.’ These are senators and representatives saying these things.”

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference:

"I do believe this law is anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-family.”

Janeth, undocumented immigrant living in Alabama:

“It’s terrorizing. Ever since they passed this law we don’t go out. We don’t go to restaurants, we don’t go to the park. We see a patrol car, and it terrifies us to think they may stop.”

“I came here because my family didn’t even have any way to eat. To get this we’ve worked day and night, three jobs.”

Jessica Rodriguez, resident of Alabama whose husband is in the process of obtaining a green card:

"My three children are part Mexican, and I want them to be proud of that. I don’t want them to live in fear."

What the law’s supporters are saying

Lindsey Lyons, mayor of Albertville:

“Because invariably you’re going to have the underlying current of crime and criminals come in with an influx of illegal immigrants, and that all is based on prostitution and brothels, your drug activity and your drug gangs, which have been present here in Albertville. That’s like it is in any community where you have the immigrant issue.”

Rep. Steve King (R-IA):

Scott Keyes (Think Progress reporter): “Is there anything you think that could be too far [about the Alabama law], like asking people in the hospital about their immigration status?”

Steve King: “I don’t know why that would be too far.”

Rep. Paul Beckman (R-Prattville):

“If you go out and you poll this, people of Alabama want this. They want a strong immigration bill. If the federal government is not going to enforce it, then the states need to take the initial step.”

Rep. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale), former chair of the Senate Rules Committee, sponsor of H.B. 56:

“It was not designed to go out and arrest tremendous numbers of people. Most folks in the state illegally will self-deport and move to states that are supportive of large numbers of illegals coming to their state. We were not putting together a deportation scheme.”

“I have no doubt that this is the best thing for the long-term economic health of our state and no doubt that this is what a majority of the people of Alabama wants.”

“Our responsibility is to the people that elect us, to the people of Alabama. If there are other states out there who want to welcome an illegal workforce and displace their own workers, they should invite them there.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), responding to Laura Ingraham’s question of about whether he believes it’s bad for Alabama’s children to be leaving school:

“It’s a sad thing that we’ve allowed a situation to occur for decades that large numbers of people are in the country illegal and it’s going to have unpleasant, unfortunate consequences.”

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL):

“Those are the intended consequences of Alabama’s legislation with respect to illegal aliens…We don’t have the money in America to keep paying for the education of everybody else’s children from around the world. We simply don’t have the financial resources to do that. Second, with respect to illegal aliens who are now leaving jobs in Alabama, that’s exactly what we want.”

In June 2011: “As your congressman on the house floor, I will do anything short of shooting them. … illegal aliens need to quit taking jobs from American citizens.”

Gov. Robert Bentley, governor of Alabama:

Hearing about failing Alabama farms: “Those are anecdotal stories. It’ll work itself out.”

“Now look, I feel sorry for a lot of families that are living in fear – but the issue is why are they even here?”

Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and architect of H.B. 56 and similar anti-immigrant laws:

“It’s self-deportation at no cost to the taxpayer. I’d say that’s a win.”

Gov. Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona:

“When I was going to school we always had to bring our birth certificates for whatever reason they needed it at that point in time.”

“I think it’s important to find out who is going to our schools and if they’re legal or if they’re illegal.”

"We never like to see families breaking up, but the bottom line is, probably those leaving Alabama are probably going back to Mexico. But we are a nation of laws and American citizens, tax-paying people, the members of our country ought not to have to take care of illegal immigration and all the issues that go with it — education, health care, incarceration."

"Alabama will survive.”

More reactions from inside and outside Alabama

U.W. Clemon, Alabama’s first African American federal judge, succeeded by Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn as Chief Judge of the Northern Alabama U.S. District Court:

“I’m sure that she [Judge Blackburn] ruled in accordance with what [she] views to be the law. Unfortunately, in some very serious ways, she was mistaken.”

As a result of H.B. 56, in Alabama “the Hispanic man is the new Negro.”

Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer Baptist Church:

"If you want to honor Fred Shuttlesworth, stand up for brown sisters and brothers and say no to segregation. If segregation was wrong in the 60′s and 70′s, segregation is wrong right now."

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL):

“I look at it as an anti-Alabama law. I’m a citizen of the United States. I was born here, and if I have to go to the secretary of state to get my plates renewed and spend hours in lines that I didn’t used to, that’s anti-Alabama. If my restaurant is empty, that’s anti-Alabama. If I can’t take my crops to market and no one is there to pick them, it’s anti-Alabama.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL):

“When I see the argument being made in Arizona and Alabama, the anti-immigrant argument being made, I am thinking to myself they are ignoring the reality. The reality is the diversity of our nation is its strength, the fact that we come from so many different places, drawn and driven to this great country for the opportunity it offers.”

Eric Holder, U.S. attorney general, at Fred Shuttleworth’s funeral in Alabama:

"In this state, too many are willing to turn their backs on our immigrant past. By the way, we’re not going to let that happen in the United States government.”

Jim McVay, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Health:

"I don’t want to spread fear, but any time people are afraid to get medical care there are potential complications.”

Claudia Pineda, owner of La Michoacana in Robertsdale, which will close in December:

“There’s no point in continuing a business when most of our customers have left. And the few that we get in say they are leaving within the next two or three months.”

Keith Smith, sweet potato farmer:

“If we pay more, it eventually puts us out of business is what’s going to happen. And you’re going to end up with food supplies, instead of coming from America, they’re going to be coming from Mexico, from Chile, from Honduras, where they’re not really regulated like we are.”

Felipe Chacon, tomato picker:

“It’s not just go to the vine and get a tomato. You have got to know what you’re doing. And it takes years, it takes years to learn how to do it.”

Stephen Colbert, host of "The Colbert Report":

“Turns out, Americans who’ve chosen a life of crime don’t have quite the same work ethic as Guatemalans who’ve walked through 500 miles of desert to feed their children.”

Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP:

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

Scott Douglas III, executive director of the Greater Birmingham Ministries:

“If you missed the 60s, guess what, now is your time. Now you can make the same kind of contribution that young people made in the 60s. And that is to be out front in saying ‘no’ to this system that will allow people to be treated worse than animals and denying basic human rights. And all in the name of instilling fear in people.”

Bill Lawrence, principal of Foley Elementary in Foley, Alabama, where 24 out of 223 Latino children enrolled have left the state and where 36 more have announced they will leave soon:

“We have seen children crying as they get off the bus, thinking their parents won’t be home when they return because they will have been deported. … many were absent and the rumours generated a climate of fear. … the children will get the worst of it because this panic affects learning. … we do not know who is undocumented and who isn’t. We do not ask because that’s none of our business.”

Melinda Martinez, local inexperienced picker at Keith Smith’s farm who’s been on the jobs for four days:

“I had to go home yesterday. I couldn’t handle it. … you have to be fast. It ain’t really worth the gas I’m spending to get here.”

Chad Smith, Alabama farmer who estimates he lost as much as $300,000 because he couldn’t harvest all of his tomatoes after the labor shortage precipitated by H.B. 56 hit:

“Hiccup ain’t a way to call it, a bump in the road ain’t a way to call it, you’re talking about people’s lives, you’re talking about millions of dollars that agriculture puts in the state Alabama and that feeds Alabama.”

Brian Cash, owner of K&B Farms, a third-generation farm in the Chandler Mountain, Alabama:

“Senator Beason sat up here personally and told us that he thought that Alabamians would take these jobs and it’s just not happening. So that pretty much just ruins Alabama agriculture…If I cannot get my normal workforce back then I won’t even attempt to farm.”

Keith Smith, Alabama potato farmer:

“They’re putting me out of business, this law. And if things don’t change, if they don’t come up with something better, people like me — we’re a has-been.”

Samuel Addy, Ph.D., director and research economist at the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration at the University of Alabama:

“Conservatively assuming that an illegal worker makes $5,000 a year (about $20 a day for 250 days of work or some 2 other combination), the absence of say 10,000 illegal workers would mean a $40 million contraction in the Alabama economy.”

Scott Beaulier, professor of economics at Troy University and executive director of the Sorrell College of Business’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy:

“In the words of Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, a sponsor of the bill, Alabama’s bill was ‘the biggest jobs bill for Alabamians that has ever been passed.’ … when I look at his claim — from a strict economic consequences point of view — it’s one of the most absurd claims I’ve ever heard.”

“Immigrants — both legal and illegal — are a force for good. They create jobs, they enrich culture and they make our state a more interesting and dynamic one in which to live. Alabama’s immigration law is a pathetic, backward attempt to play politics and protect Alabamians from the bogeyman of immigration.”

Roman Lovera, undocumented student afraid to go to high school:

“I was so close. One little piece of paper [H.B. 56] kept me from graduating.”

Greg Parrish, owner of Creekside Rentals, a mobile home park in Russellville, Alabama:

“Fifteen years ago, Russellville was a dead town. … everything started booming. [Hispanics] put a lot of money back into the community. If they leave, Russellville’s going to be hurting big time.”

Jeremy Thornton, professor of economics at Samford University Brock School of Business:

“The state will be poorer because of this bill.”

Van Phillips, principal, Center Point High School, Alabama:

“I’m not INS. It’s not my job to police who’s legal, who’s illegal.”

Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards:

“We’re concerned about the chilling effect on attendance and registration of students that we are required by law to serve.”

About the law

To reach her decision, Judge Blackburn rejected the sound legal analysis of other federal district judges and a panel of federal appellate judges, misrepresented binding Supreme Court precedent, and ignored the plain language of the Alabama statute. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals partially reversed her ruling but left intact a number of extreme measures while the legal proceedings move forward.

As a result of these rulings, the following measures, among others, are now in effect in Alabama:

  • Police officers must ask anyone they stop who they think might be undocumented to prove their immigration status on the spot.
  • It is a felony for an undocumented immigrant to enter in to a contract with any state or local governmental entity.
  • Most contracts entered in to with an undocumented immigrant are null and void including child support, loans, rentals, and so forth.
  • Some undocumented immigrants must be indefinitely detained.

The consequences of these measures include:

  • Children are scared to go to school for fear their parents will be taken away from them.
  • Parents are afraid to go to work.
  • Health officials are worried that immigrants fearing arrest and deportation have stopped seeking medical care increasing the risk of illness.
  • Others are burrowing deeper, fearful of contact with authorities that might result in arrest, detention, and deportation.
  • There is now an American state where all of us must carry our papers at all times or risk being hauled off by the police in handcuffs in front of our kids.
  • Latinos—even if they are U.S. citizens—are now officially “suspect” in Alabama.
  • Good cops are forced to ask for papers of anyone who they “reasonably suspect” of being undocumented even though they know it will undermine their ability to fight crime.
  • Bad cops will seek out and relish stopping people and asking for papers.
  • Latinos and others whose families have been in the United States for generations will get asked to produce their papers frequently.
  • Latino immigrants will see police not as crime fighters but as immigration agents.
  • It is a felony for an undocumented immigrant to get running water hooked up in her house.
  • Alabama has given state-sanctioned license to break contracts with and exploit undocumented individuals so employers can refuse to pay workers and landlords can kick tenants out of their apartments without notice.
  • The state’s agricultural industry could be decimated as immigrant workers stop showing up.
  • Alabama’s reputation as a state welcoming to foreign investment is going to suffer.
  • Alabama’s reputation of opposing civil rights to African Americans is compounded with a reputation for violating Latinos’ civil rights.
  • Questions about “ethnic cleansing” will now be asked about a U.S. state.

Decent Americans must do all we can to help the immigrant community under siege in Alabama as well as the brave civil rights community, and religious groups who are on the front lines.

We must ask ourselves and challenge our leaders: Is this the kind of America we want?

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