Not-So Sweet Home Alabama: What Alabamians Are Saying About Their State’s New Immigration Law
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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.
By Center for American Progress Immigration Team
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.
On Wednesday, September 28, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn struck down parts of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, but she left in place some of H.B 56’s most extreme and controversial provisions.
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.
As a result of her ruling, these measures, among others, are now in effect in Alabama:
- Schools must check the immigration status of every student and parent and report that information to the state.
- Schools are authorized to report students and parents they believe to be undocumented to the federal government.
- Police officers must ask anyone they stop who they think might be undocumented to prove their immigration status on the spot.
- It is now a state crime to be undocumented.
- 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.
- Some Latinos are packing to leave the state.
- 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.
- 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?
What Alabamians have to say
With the state’s immigrant community reeling in fear, other anti-immigrant legislators across the nation have a green light to pursue similar, reprehensible measures. Recognizing these fears and the law’s perilous consequences, Alabama educators, leaders of faith, civil rights, and business communities, among others, have spoken out against H.B. 56 and the judge’s erroneous decision.
Here are a few selected reactions from the community:
Silvia Giagnoni, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Dramatic Arts at Auburn University at Montgomery:
“It is sadly ironic that the same day a federal judge upholds major sections of the Alabama immigration law—the most restrictive in the nation—the state also receives an ‘A’ on its educational work in teaching civil rights history. It’s ironic because this comes at a time when the most retrogressive forces in Alabama claim a victory, although it is unclear to me against whom.”
Michael Innis Jimenez, a historian who studies Latino immigration and labor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa:
“It’s going to cause a lot of legal immigrants a lot of grief… Why stay in this state when you can get pulled over and harassed? That’s going to be a big issue.”
“Right now there’s a shortage of [construction] workers and they’re scaring off a lot of workers.”
Bryan Fair, University of Alabama constitutional law professor:
“I think those provisions invite racial profiling, and I think racial profiling violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.”
Louis DeSipio, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine:
“It just doesn’t work. A database can have a lot of false positives. In a workplace, that’s not a problem because the employer can give a person a certain amount of time to correct the problem. But parked on the side of a highway in Alabama, there’s not much you can do.”
Joey Kennedy, instructor, University of Alabama at Birmingham:
“But Alabama is determined to be the meanest state in the country where immigration is concerned. Congratulations to us. We were meanest when it came to giving African-Americans their civil rights. We’re pretty mean toward people of the same gender who just want to live their lives together. No reason why we shouldn’t be mean to immigrants, too.”
John McMillan, agriculture commissioner of Alabama:
“We have seen the enormous difficulties farmers, especially those in produce and poultry, have encountered as a result of the new immigration law. The economic hardship to farmers and agribusinesses will reverberate throughout Alabama’s economy, as one-fifth of all jobs in our state come from farming.”
“[The Legislature] had no idea of the unintended consequences.”
Johnny Adams of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association:
“We are going to be talking with legislators throughout the state—and when I say we, I’m talking about basically the business community—about our concerns about the law, and when we get to (the legislative) session we will see where we stand. But we would certainly like to see some changes made.”
Joel Sirmon, Baldwin County farmer:
“These people will do work that local people won’t do, you know? They’re hard workers … don’t cause no problem. We’ve had to advertise for labor, and we’ve got U.S. citizens in here. They work an hour or two, but they can’t do what the migrant workers do.”
“We’re going to run a lot of these people away from this state, and I don’t know how we’re going to survive—not just farmers. It’s house builders.”
Mac Higginbotham, commodity director at the Alabama Farmers Federation in Montgomery:
“This decision affects every farmer and every person who hires one or more employees. The fact is, a lot of Americans aren’t willing to do temporary jobs that involve intense work in the hot sun.”
Kim Haynes, local farmer:
“Alabama just shut off their local food supply.”
William Burkes, local farmer:
“There’s a big concern for next year. I’m cutting back. We won’t plant as much because we don’t know what kind of labor we will have.”
Jeremy Calvert, a farmer in rural Bremen:
“There are some sweet potato farmers in this state it’s really going to hurt. I don’t know how they’re going to get their crops out.”
“It’s a real shame that a working farmer has to break the law now just to make a living.”
Keith Smith, farmer:
“If you want to solve the immigration problem, quit eating.”
Brian Hardin, assistant director of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s governmental and agricultural programs:
“We’ve got farmers who have already lost crops this summer and this fall. It’s hot work. It’s difficult work and it’s work that most people don’t want to do for a long time.”
Jay Reed of Associated Builders & Contractors, co-chair of Alabama Employers for Immigration Reform:
“As an association, we certainly hoped more thought would be given to the message HB56 sent to those working here legally.“
“In Alabama we must continue to roof projects, plant landscaping and harvest crops. Today the question is, ‘Who is left to do that?‘”
“The question is, now that the law has passed and is in effect, who will fill these labor-intensive jobs? To date, we haven’t had anyone waiting in line.”
“The two issues are the labor shortage and the burdensome red tape. There was a big misconception that there were long lines formed by Alabamians who wanted these labor-intensive jobs.”
Lolly Steiner, Auburn Chamber of Commerce president:
“From the time the controversial immigration law was introduced, we’ve certainly been concerned about the impact on local businesses and the potential hardship it may cause. … Going forward, the most important role of the Auburn Chamber is to educate businesses.”
Jose Carlos Pineda, 13-year-old son of Guadalupe Pineda-Rios, owner of Foley La Michaoacana market:
“From night to the morning, his dream went away. If the law keeps going, he might have to close. And if the business closes, he has to leave.”
Community and civil rights leaders
Victor Spezzini, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama:
“This is a step backward in time for Alabama. We are going back to a time of laws similar to Jim Crow laws, but now directed at immigrant communities.”
Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama:
“It is clear that agencies throughout the state, from probate offices to water and sewer companies, are interpreting Section 30 to require them to deny services to anyone who cannot prove that they are lawfully present.”
Janet Murguía, president, National Council of La Raza:
“This law harkens back to similar laws in Alabama’s past. We have been down this road before, and this is not a part of Alabama’s history that bears repeating.”
Foster Maer, LatinoJustice PRLDEF:
“Given the breadth of this decision, it promises to open a new and ugly chapter on race relations in the United States.”
Van Phillips, principal, Center Point High School:
“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.”
David Stout, spokesman for the Alabama Education Association:
“The teachers already have tremendous responsibilities and now must take on the responsibility of being immigration officials.”
Bill Lawrence, principal, Foley Elementary:
“What this law is going to do is separate the children from their parents if they get pulled over, and that’s our worry and our concern.”
“The reality is, that’s why they’re here. They’re here for their children. They want the best for their children, and that’s the tragedy in this piece. We’re going to continue to work with the children who stay here, make this a safe environment for them to learn.”
Linda Harris, English as a Second Language teacher at Foley Elementary:
“As they were leaving today—I heard about the immigration law—and it broke my heart to see them walk out the door and think that I might not see them again. That broke my heart because they are children who I have a relationship with. They are real live human beings. They are not characters in a play.”
Dawn DuPree Kelley, longtime principal of Greenwood Elementary Schools:
“We’ve been having to troubleshoot today to offer encouragement … and let them know that the best place is to have their child in school—that’s their federal right [and] they are safe in school.“
Principal Kelley says she’s uncomfortable having to make any report on student immigration status, partly because it breaks down trust she has built up with immigrant parents. She has heard recently of families in a less-welcoming school district in Alabama being told, essentially, “Don’t bother enrolling, you won’t be here long.”
Randy Christian, chief deputy of Birmingham’s Jefferson County, which is trying to avoid filing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history:
“I am more concerned on where we will put the ones we detain. We have a jail built for 900 inmates that is already overcrowded and averaging 1,200 inmates a day. It’s another unfunded mandate to a county struggling to keep its head above water.”
Bobby Timmons, executive director of the Alabama Sheriffs Association:
“If the federal people don’t come and get him, how long do I hold him?…We ain’t got no money. We are looking at the dollar factor.”
Allison Neal, the legal director of the ACLU of Alabama:
“The requirement that employers demand documentation from anyone they suspect of working illegally is likely to result in ‘systematic racial profiling of anyone who looks or sounds foreign’.”
Andre Segura, attorney at ACLU:
“This law is much worse than Arizona…[The legislation] threatens public safety and undermines American values.”
Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“This will have an incredibly chilling effect on children and on parents. It turns school officials and other government officials into, kind of, immigration agents, and that’s a terrible message for kids and families.”
Linton Joaquin, general counsel for the National Immigration Law Center:
“Overall, we’re very disappointed. We think this is a flawed ruling.”
David W. Leopold, a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Cleveland lawyer:
“The Supreme Court has always recognized that immigration is about national security, it’s about who controls the borders. That’s the plenary authority of the Congress.”
“If every state had its own immigration policy, there would be no need for a federal government. We wouldn’t need a United States, and in fact, there wouldn’t be a United States.”
Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama:
“Not only will we appeal the court’s decision, we will also mobilize and organize Alabamians to repeal this law and stand up for immigrant justice.”
Rep. Pebblin Warren, District 28 representative and Democrat from Tuskegee:
“This will hurt private businesses, farmers and contractors. It will have a more devastating effect on legals rather than illegals. Our contractors—who totally depend on migrant workers … Prices will go up, and people will feel it. Lord have mercy on this country.”
Luis Gutierrez, congressman from Illinois:
“If you were to take this policy across America, you would have millions of American citizen children whose parents, for fear of being deported, would not enroll them in kindergarten. Moreover, would not immunize them, would not seek out medical attention. You know, a disease, a bug, it doesn’t know immigration status.”
Doug Jones, former U.S. attorney for Alabama’s Northern District:
Said the provisions would open the door to “selective prosecutions, racial profiling, and denial of educational opportunities despite the law’s statements to the contrary.”
Quinton Ross, Democratic state senator of Alabama (with Hank Sanders, another Democratic state senator):
Sen. Ross told the crowd he was “ashamed” of the law and that even though his party is “in the minority,” they “will continue to fight on behalf of all Alabamians.”
Mark Kennedy, chairman of the Alabama Democrats, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice:
“Though we appreciate the serious and thoughtful deliberation with which Judge Blackburn made her decision today, we are disappointed that the Alabama legislature would see fit to pass a bill that could lead to racial profiling and injustice.”
José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States:
Laws such as HB 56, he emphasized, “seek to artificially suppress natural processes and exacerbate feelings of discrimination and xenophobia towards immigrants.”
Birmingham News editorial board:
“We still believe much of the immigration law, even many of the parts affirmed by Blackburn, is mean-spirited and overreaching. Lawmakers should repeal it and start over with a more reasonable law. That would certainly cost the state less, in dollars and in reputation, than it will to enforce the law on the streets and defend it in the courts.”
J.D. Crowe, editorial cartoonist for Mobile Press-Register:
“Alabama needs insurance reform and better education and better jobs and oh, I don’t know, a hundred other things before we need a tough new immigration law that stresses out farmers, law enforcement, school officials, people in line at the DMV and everyone with a tan.”
Los Angeles Times editorial:
“Alabama’s law is cruel and unnecessary. But the state isn’t solely to blame for the legal mess. Nor is Blackburn, though her decision to allow police to enforce immigration laws contradicts those of other federal judges who blocked similar laws in Arizona and Georgia. The fact is that a significant portion of the fault lies with Washington.”
Washington Post editorial:
“The clear intent of Alabama’s viciously xenophobic immigration law—and the likely effect, now that most of it was upheld by a federal judge this week—is to hound, harass and intimidate illegal immigrants into uprooting their lives and moving elsewhere.”
Desert News editorial, Utah:
“If fully implemented, this misguided law would turn farmers, sheriffs, businessmen, educators and other citizens into immigration agents—often against their will.”
Guillermo Villanueva, a sophomore business science major at the University of Alabama at Birmingham:
“Legally you can harass someone for looking different. An illegal person doesn’t look any different from me.”
William Anderson, organizer of protest at University of Alabama campuses:
“I organized it because we have one of the most regressive, draconian immigrant laws here in Alabama and I think it’s ridiculous and I think it’s backwards and I think student’s should get involved, and this is an opportunity for them to do so.”
Sam Arnold, student, University of Alabama, member, Students for a Democratic Society:
“We think that it is not right in that it condones racial profiling. It is largely going to be a detriment to society. It goes way too far in anti-immigration enforcement.”
Daniel Wilson, Oakwood University freshman:
“They’ll be forced to grow up in foster care, forced to grow up without a family. As citizens we are taking our right we have to make our voice heard.”
Vanessa Diambos, Oakwood University student:
“Just looking at the effects this law is going to have on families, it troubles me, it really does. There are also some children who were brought here undocumented. They may have been brought over as infants with no say over whether or not they left their home country, and this country is all they know. For those children, what happens to them?“
Jose Perez, a 15-year-old high school sophomore who said he has lived in Alabama since he was 2:
“I know nothing of my home country of Mexico. It makes me feel hurt and offended, because my parents brought me here for a better life and I didn’t have a say in that. I just have a say to stay here and fighting for what I believe.”
Samarah Mohammad, a freshman biology major:
“Not only is it effecting immigrants, it’s effecting people who are not immigrants.”
Jessica Pineda, whose father owns a market in Foley, Alabama:
“I was born in the United States. I know I have my American rights. But if I go outside people are going to think I’m illegal. I get scared because we have the color.”
Revs. Matt Lacey and R.G. Lyons, in a statement on behalf of 150 United Methodist pastors who signed a letter opposing the law:
“We feel that many of these elements, written by members of the State House and Senate who campaign on Christianity, are not representative of the message of Christ who welcomed the stranger despite country of origin or status.”
Rev. Diana Jordan Allende:
“If immigration is a crisis, it’s a humanitarian crisis that should concern us, not motivate us to criminalize desperate people. Men, women and children come here seeking a better life through hard work and sacrifice, performing work that Alabama needs them to do.”
Center for American Progress is an Atlantic grantee.