Facing South

HB 56 reigniting civil rights movement in Alabama

By Valeria Fernandez, New America Media

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Helen Rivas sits down to grab dinner at a local Mexican restaurant in the heart of Birmingham and soon finds herself fielding questions from the Latino waiter about HB 56, Alabama's new immigration law.

As Rivas -- a member of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice -- speaks, other immigrant workers from the restaurant quietly form a circle around her, listening. They are puzzled, scared and confused. They need answers.

As fear and doubt about the future swells within Alabama's immigrant community, an increasingly diverse group of activists from across the state -- people like Rivas -- have had their hands full trying to quench their thirst for information and sometimes even protection.

"We're in crisis mode. We're responding to an immediate crisis," confirmed Victor Palafox, a 19-year-old leader of Alabama Dreamers for the Future. "We're trying to build a movement from the ground up."

Alabama's immigrant communities are geographically spread out and often isolated in rural areas, making the task of reaching them difficult.

"It's a man-made disaster, it's totally avoidable and preventable," said Rivas about the hysteria, comparing the impact of HB 56 to the April 27 tornado that wreaked havoc on some of the poorest communities in Alabama, including Latino immigrants.

Rivas, however, said there has been an outpouring of regional and national support for the anti-HB 56 movement and local organizers have been stepping up to the plate, informing people about their rights and strategizing with other activists.

Scott Douglas, director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, a group that advocates for equal justice issues, said the outcry coming from blacks, whites, and Latinos against the new law is reactivating a civil rights movement that was born in Alabama half a century ago in response to black segregation.

"What’s happening is a continuing growth of the civil rights movement," said Douglas, who believes civil disobedience should not be out of the question.

“Back then [during the heyday of the civil rights movement] it was people in the black church [who were] involved, and the white church was silent. This time, there are black churches, brown churches and white churches saying 'not in our names.' They're saying we're going to break the law intentionally," he added.

Churches recently took a lead role in Alabama when the Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church and Roman Catholic Church filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HB 56, saying it violated immigrants' rights to free speech, assembly and religious practice.

Angie Wright, pastor of Beloved Community United Church of Christ and local human rights organizer, said that in several respects HB 56 took many outside the Latino community by surprise.

"Our immigrant population is so small. We don't have an 'immigration problem.' It's a completely manufactured political ploy," said Wright. "We are not Arizona, we are not a border state."

Alabama has an estimated undocumented immigrant population of 150,000 -- roughly 3 percent of the total state population of 4,779,736.

Some of the grassroots pro-immigrant organizers and church leaders that spoke with NAM said they feel it's still too early to talk about a long-term strategy against HB 56 and are hesitant to say that an economic boycott is the way to go.

"The question is: Who do you boycott?" said Douglas. "Right now, we have pumpkins rotting in the fields," he said in reference to the number of agricultural workers that left their jobs. "No one is talking about a boycott yet."

In Arizona, where a similarly harsh immigration law (SB 1070) was passed, economic boycotts cost the tourism industry an estimated $100 million in losses.

HB 56, also referred to as the "Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act" was promoted through the first state legislature with a Republican majority in over 130 years, and was promoted as a way to create more jobs, assuming immigrants would leave.

"This should be called the taxpayer kick in the butt act," said Douglas, because of the expected loss in school funding that will accompany the drop in students who are leaving with their undocumented families. Part of the law that did go into effect requires schools to compile information about the immigration status of students and their parents when they enroll for the first time.

Douglas believes that Alabama's HB 56 is a continuation of an effort that gathered momentum with Arizona’s SB 1070 and has more to do with anti-immigrant groups operating outside of Alabama than it does with the state's future. Others like Wright feel it is creating a market for the private prison industry that is growing across the country via the influx of undocumented immigrants being arrested under the new state laws.

While some hope HB 56 will be struck down by an appeal currently pending in the 11th District Court of Appeals, the legal process is lengthy and in the meantime organizers fear that people's rights will be violated.

Rivas said that members from the DOJ met informally with people in the community to hear about how the law has already affected them.

The Southern Law Poverty Center also established a hotline where people can call and report abuses caused by enforcement of the new law as well as instances of racial profiling.

"Part of the movement is to educate people about the laws and what their rights are," said Zayne Smith, an immigration policy director with the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice.

Smith said HB 56's provision that bans undocumented immigrants from entering into contracts with the state has been affecting renters and landlords who have canceled their contracts to prevent being sanctioned by authorities.

Latinos have no political representation in Alabama’s state legislature, which makes it even more difficult for anti-HB 56 camp to garner support.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum said that with the small number of Latinos in the state comes an even greater need not only for humanitarian but political support.

"The focus has really turned to the [Obama] administration [because] it's been clear that Congress is only [interested in] enforcement," said Noorani. He hopes Obama will rescind harsh immigration enforcement programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities that could assist the state in the enforcement of HB 56.

"I think, frankly, the president needs to be very clear where he is on this," said Noorani.

The backslash to HB 56 has already brought together atypical alliances, such as those between educational leaders, churches and the Alabama Farmers Federation, which has argued that laws like HB 56 could dry up the state's immigrant labor supply.

The unprecedented coalitions have left some organizers feeling hopeful.

"I believe we can turn around enough votes by the time the session comes around to get it repealed or get it to the point that it's not horrendous," said Wright.

But the fear is that the state might have lost most of its immigrant population by then.

"A lot of people feel abandoned, frustrated, betrayed," said Palafox. "We need something people can get behind, something they'll be willing to stay for and give them a sense of direction. If you don't give people a sense of direction they're going to go on their own way."

Facing South
Facing South
Appreciate this post? Please donate & share below.
Reddit »



People Referenced:


Both of you are tools

Both of you are tools spouting nonsense unless you or your family is from one of the native North American tribes. Those coming from Mexico/Central America are not stealing any jobs at all; in fact they are providing labor that no Americans would take, even if there were no other jobs to be had...

It would be interesting to see how loudly y'all start howling when there is no one to work the feilds (crops dying, farms failing, etc) clean your homes/ofices, serve your meals, landscape your property, care for your overweight/apethetic children, etc, etc...

Crawl back under your rocks and stop complaining about something made up as the author so correctly chastises you, your Governor, and your state legislature. You deserve ridicule and guess you will have to hit rock-bottom before you realize the error of your ways and lack of critical thinking abilities...


Three cheers for Alabama, and HB 56!

I appreciate Ms. Fernandez' efforts to distort the truth about the wonderful new law passed by the State of Alabama: HB 56. As Attorney General Holder's hired hordes of politically misguided attorneys suffer one stinging court defeat after another, the supremacy of the will of the people of Alabama to make sure that the workers of Alabama do not have to compete with the hordes of illegal aliens for employment emerges supreme. !Viva Alabama! !Viva HB 56! Keep immigration SAFE, LEGAL, and RARE!

Another disingenuous statement in her silly, disingenuous diatribe against Governor Robert Bentley and the legislature of the state of Alabama is their contention that the economic boycotts against Arizona achieved anything, except rage against those who would employ this totally unconstitutional tactic. Sorry, what actually happened is that the magnet finally got turned off, and the educational expenses saved by the State of Arizona by getting rid of the leaches del Sur were somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 million dollars. Since the children of illegal immigrants from Mexico are not really American citizens, because their parents are represented by deputies in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, and are therefore subject to the authority of a foreign power, they are specifically excluded from birthright citizenship, and Mexico should be reimbursing the State of Alabama for the facilities that these students require, while Mexico should be providing the teachers, the curriculum, and the acculturation to assist these hijos y hijas to return to their homeland as full fledged Mexican citizens. Mexico should also be supplying curanderos to provide medical care for their citizens, accept full responsibility for managing their social security contributions, and providing all their welfare benefits. The ploy of terrorizing children, used by their heartless parents to elicit sympathy from stupid do-gooder left-wing organizations and churches, is disgusting. Hopefully, all of the illegal immigrants in Alabama will get the hint that no nation today can get away with the "beggar thy neighbor" policy of exporting its' "poor, tired, and huddled masses" somewhere else, and return to Mexico determined to make their beautiful homeland into the envy of the world. All they have to do is to reduce their population to a sustainable level, and take responsibility for the welfare of their own nation, instead of forcing it on the United States. We have more than enough unemployed workers of our own. We don't need any more competition for the few jobs that are available.

So let me get this right

So let me get this right Bill. I was born in Texas 45 years ago, of Mexican immigrants who are legal residents but are still Mexican citizens. You're saying I'm not an American citizen? That my American birth is irrelevant, regardless of the Constitution, because, as you state, my parents "are represented by deputies in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, and are therefore subject to the authority of a foreign power". This despite the fact I have voted over the past 25 years, worked and paid taxes in Texas all my life, served on grand and petite juries, served as an elected public official, and am considered a citizen by everyone I have ever met -- except by ignoramuses (racists?) like yourself.

I guess you'd send me "back" to Mexico.

One other thing -- where do you get that boycotts are unconstitutional? BS! We have the right to choose where we want to spend our money, and where to visit as tourists.

TODAY! NOW! Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) needs your help, to SAVE YO

Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith needs your help immediately if we are going to get a House floor vote this year on H.R. 2885, the Legal Workforce Act.

Whoever becomes the President of the United States needs to erect the real border fence. To facilitate the policy described in the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which is a double-layer fence for the two thousand miles, stretching through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas festooned with razor sharp concertina wire. As an major addition placing a permanent military force on the border, to bond with the U.S. Border Agents; a requirement to assist border sheriffs, who are fighting a never ending battle against drug smugglers and people traffickers. In furtherance, the police need tools for domestic enforcement, so they can be partnered with ICE. "Secure Communities" helps the local police to identify criminal illegal aliens through fingerprints, by forwarding this identification to ICE. The 287 G is another policing program, which offers federal training in apprehending illegal aliens on the highway, such as State Troopers or Highway Patrol, who have the authority to arrest a suspicious driver and hold him for ICE agents.

By far the greatest innovation is the "THE LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT” sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas. Every working American should demand from their Senators and the House Representatives, to vote for this bill. Commonly known as E-Verify (H.R. 2885) it will reduce the chances of millions of illegal migrants or immigrants from being hired. Unless you have a upper management job, everybody is vulnerable from a job loss. If you are lucky to have a job, you can aid the 20 million workers who are seeking employment. Under E-Verify bill business owners are not excused from severe punishment by hiring people of unauthorized status.

Illegal immigration is no longer a minor occurrence, it’s everybody’s problem. This issue is a hundred billion dollar cost every year, extorted from your taxes annually to subsidize foreign nationals who have violated our laws. These are the pregnant women with unborn babies, who navigate past our border fence, or use the airways to enter illegally. While Americans are paying for other countries downtrodden, we cannot resuscitate our eroding infrastructure, our children’s crowded schools, underfunded hospitals and overpopulated prisons through the affliction of 20 million or more illegal aliens. The expenditure annually is an estimated $113 Billion dollars a year, as according to statistics from the Hermitage Foundation.

E-Verify is a progressive computer program and is being continuously upgraded with more innovations to detect forged ID. In conjunction with form I-9 is progression will soon be a 100 percent successful in verifying who’s eligible for a job. One new piece of software soon to be fully organized is state access to Drivers License records. Mississippi was the first state to offer there Dept of Motor vehicle services.


NumbersUSA, the pro sovereignty, limited immigration group has aided a host of a dozen county sheriffs this week in Washington to make their pleas to Congress and ICE, in favor of all sheriffs to get more federal support in battling illegal immigration in their counties. Local and border Sheriffs are telling their stories of being over-run with trans-national drug trafficking, smuggling operations, Mexican cartels and other immigration-related crime were gripping -- and also enraging that our own federal government who are so concerned about helping illegal aliens, while displaying so little enthusiasm in helping the sheriffs. Pressure your U.S. Representative to act to get a committee and floor vote on the CLEAR Act (H.R. 100). This act provides a lot of assistance to local, county and state law enforcement when they want to drive the illegal alien population out of their jurisdictions. Go to your customized website where you will locate a free fax to send to your U.S. Representative. Most of you will find a free fax that urges co-sponsorship of the bill.

The beauty of the CLEAR Act is that it essentially requires the feds to cooperate whenever community law enforcement brings illegal aliens to their attention. While it wouldn't stop localities from being sanctuaries or offering other enticements for illegal aliens, it would stop the current Administration's practice of trying to stop localities from pushing illegal aliens out of their communities and would require the feds to give assistance. I cannot think of any single action that would be a more effective protest against the Obama Administration's anti-local-enforcement efforts or a more effective single action to help our nation's besieged sheriffs who have tended to be our best allies among the nation's law enforcement officials. If you want to fax, go to NumbersUSA or please call 202-224-3121 and ask for your U.S. Representative's office to urge action this fall on the CLEAR Act. This is the same Washington switchboard number to insist that your local or federal politician to push a vote on the "THE LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT”. Contact Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH); House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA); House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) ; House Chairman of Ways & Means Committee Dave Camp (R-MI);

Other Members of the Ways & Means Committee to phone or fax for free.

NEBRASKA, Rep. Berg, Rick (GOP) (202-225-2611) ; NEBRASKA, Rep. Smith, Adrian (GOP) (202-225-6435); LOUISIANA, Rep. Boustany, Charles (GOP) (202-225-2031); MICHIGAN, Rep. Camp, Dave (GOP) (202-225-3561) & (202-225-2031); KENTUCKY, Rep. Davis, Geoff (GOP) (202-225-3465); PENNSYLVANIA, Rep. Gerlach, Jim (GOP)(202-225-4315); KANSAS, Rep. Jenkins, Lynn (GOP)(202-225-6601); MINNESOTA, Rep. Paulsen, Erik (GOP)(202-225-2871); WASHINGTON, Rep. Reichert, Dave (GOP) (202-225-7761); WISCONSIN, Rep. Ryan, Paul (GOP) (202-225-3031)

Tell these unwilling lawmakers that you are a voter and that they will be hearing from you in 2012.


One Old Vet saying, “Stand next to me and you’ll never stand alone.”

Remember—Don’t Steal. The Government doesn’t like competition.

Post new comment

You may enter comments here to publicly respond to this article. If you are having trouble posting your comment, please contact help@southernstudies.org.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.