Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Report From Resistance in Alabama to Racist Anti-Immigrant Bill HB56, By Ingrid Chapman

I arrived in Alabama 2 days before HB 56 went into effect with the original plan of being here for 2 weeks. That turned into 3 months. I have just returned for 6 more months to work with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.

I learned about the incredibly egregious law HB 56 and I listened to my heart, which told me to respond to the call for organizing support and to go to Alabama. Now I am living in Alabama, a place I never imagined myself, every day is incredibly challenging, full of simultaneous heartbreak and inspiration and yet I am thankful to be here. I am working side by side with hundreds of incredible people and I do believe from this atrocity a movement is being born that will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people if not millions.

I know many do not know the extent of both the crisis and developing movement and so I want to update you and ask for your thinking and support building a national movement and outcry against the most vicious anti-immigration law in the country. I have included some suggested ways to support at the very bottom.

The first weeks were really trying, with a heart-breaking human rights disaster exploding across the state. Alabama citizens taking on the role of immigration enforcers and checking people’s immigration status at every intersection of people’s lives; public schools, children’s sports teams, power and water companies, hospitals, pharmacies, super stores like Walmart, trailer parks, apartment buildings, by police at every traffic stop and much, much more.

The goal of this law is to make Alabama unlivable for undocumented immigrants. Thousands and thousands of people have left the state. Thousands are living in fear and only leave their homes for work, school and the absolute necessities. At the same time thousands are stepping up and organizing, fighting back and an incredible cross cultural, multiracial movement is growing in Alabama.

Alabama is a place that has experienced some of the harshest racism and civil rights abuses and yet some of the most impactful and influential organizing of the civil rights movement. That history is still so present, and many of the veterans and descendants of the civil rights movement are stepping up in the struggle against HB 56, outraged at the parallels of racism, abuse and Jim Crow.
The movement in Alabama right now is probably one of the most inspiring examples of immigrant communities coming together with African Americans and building unity on a state wide level. Immigrants are getting organized and forming new organizations all over the state. In late December we held a rally in Montgomery. Community leaders mobilized over 26 buses from around the state and 3,000 people to march to the Governor’s mansion. Hundreds of children led the march bringing letters they had written to the Governor asking him to repeal HB 56.
That afternoon we held a strategy meeting with immigrant leaders. Community leaders representing all regions of the state shared the success from their efforts over the past 3 months and their strategies for building up power in the coming period to fight for repeal of HB 56. Just this week we held another strategy retreat with over 85 immigrant leaders representing cities from around the state, building up organizing skills and collectively setting the priorities for the legislative and organizing struggle ahead. Feb 7th, the first day of the legislature is the next big action in Montgomery.

We are also amidst a major education and organizing campaign happening among communities of faith. Immigration 101 workshops are being held in churches across the state and hundreds of faith leaders are speaking out against the law.

As the impacts become more widely felt and recognized unlikely allies, such as Republican farmers, local and international business owners, business associations, city chambers of commerce, mayors, county sheriffs and police chiefs are coming out against the law. The implementation of the law is having deep economic impacts, with a loss of skilled workers, businesses shutting down, loss of jobs and of state tax revenues.

International businesses are canceling projects in AL, because it is not safe for their workers. Farmers whose tomatoes rotted in the field because all their workers fled the state have confronted the Governor with buckets asking if he would help pick the crops. The Alabama Farmers Federation estimated the sector would suffer $63 million in losses as the result of the new law going into effect. The Sheriff of Jefferson County spoke at a congressional hearing stating that the police force absolutely does not have the resources or training to take on the role of immigration enforcement and admitted that the law requires his officers to racially profile. A survey done showed that the majority of Alabamians are now against the law.
It is becoming more and more clear that HB 56 a law driven by racism and scapegoating is a false solutions to economic problems and will not fix the economy but devastate the lives of thousands and hurt all Alabamians morally, spiritually and economically. Also ever-present is the potential national impact of the struggle and possible deep effects of a repeal of HB 56. This law is the most aggressive and extensive statewide anti-immigrant bill in the country with 30 different provisions.

Below are some of the harshest pieces of the law that are in effect and just some of the stories of the real human impacts:

1) Police are required to check the immigration status of people they stop and reasonably suspect to be in the country unlawfully.
Racial profiling of all people who are brown and or have accents. People are afraid to leave their homes, afraid to drive to work, to school, to the grocery store. People have feelings of being hunted and constantly surveilled. A 13-year-old told me she sends text messages to her parents all day while she is at school fearing everyday may be the day she loses her parents because they have been detained and deported during a traffic stop. A mother I met started having panic attacks from the stress of fearing she will be torn apart from her children and deported. A judge advised a lawyer that the lawyer had an obligation to report her own client to ICE as undocumented. The same judge stated that he might have to report to ICE any person who asked for an interpreter, as such a request would be a red flag.* Latino workers on a construction jobsite were threatened by a group of men with guns, who told them to go back to Mexico and threatened to kill them if they were there the following day. They declined to report the crime to law enforcement because of fears of what would happen to them if they did.* A victim of domestic violence went to court to obtain a protective order. The clerk told her that she’d be reported to ICE if she proceeded.* Much, much more…

2) All new contracts between an undocumented immigrant and another person are unenforceable in state court.
In Northport, the water authority provided notices to Latino customers that their services will be shut off if they didn’t provide proof of immigration status immediately.* In Madison County and in Decatur, the public utilities have announced that they will not provide water, gas, or sewage service to people who could not prove their status.* A women called and said the manager of her trailer parked asking residents to prove their status and then evicted everyone, claiming their leases where now null and void. A mother took her ill child to the hospital and was denied health care and thus service. A husband called us to report that his wife, nine months pregnant, was too afraid to go to a hospital in Alabama to give birth, and that he was trying to decide whether to have her give birth at home or somehow to try to get to Florida.* Clerks at Walmart have asked Latinos to show an Alabama drivers license in order to check out. A mother spoke to the local office of the Department of Human Resources about her US citizen children's eligibility for food stamps. The social worker told the mother that she would be turning the mother into the federal government for deportation. The family went into hiding.*

3) It is a felony for undocumented immigrants to enter into a “business transaction” with the state of Alabama.
People could not renew car tags, providing more excuses for the police to stop them. People could not renew their tags for their mobile homes; causing fear people may lose their homes. Immigrant owned businesses went under causing more unemployment and decrease in revenue for the state. A Latino man was arrested and detained. While in jail, he was told that he could not use the telephone to call his attorney because the use of the phone would be a “business transaction” prohibited by HB56* (the business transaction part of the law has recently been advised against enforcing by the AL attorney general and is changing in some parts of the state).

4) K-12 school officials are required to question students about their immigration status and that of their parents.
Parents were afraid to send their kids to school. 2500 children were taken out of school by their parents. Thousands more were absent in the first weeks. An ESL teacher told me the parents dropped their kids off at her house afraid the schools would report them to ICE if they took their children directly to school. Schools lost millions of dollars in federal funding, and thus jobs because of the un-enrollment of thousands. Racism and bullying has increased in the schools. Teachers jokingly made comments about ICE picking up absent Latino students. A group of immigrant children were denied the ability to participate on a sports team, with coaches stating they were not supposed to invest resources in immigrant children. (This part of the law went into effect and then was temporally enjoined two weeks later. However much damage was done.)

*Stories from the ACIJ hotline

Other provisions of the law have been temporarily blocked by the courts. These include provisions that:

● Prohibit residents from transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants

● Make it a traffic violation for motorists who stop in the roadway to hire a day laborer

● Prohibit universities from enrolling certain immigrants – including asylees, refugees or those granted temporary protected status

● Make it a misdemeanor for failing to complete or carry an alien registration card

● Prohibit employers from taking state tax deductions for wages paid to undocumented workers

● Allow employers to be sued for discrimination by people with U.S. citizen or legal immigration status when they are fired or not hired by an employer with undocumented employees

Because the law is so extensive AL citizens are taking on the role of interpreting the law on their own and enforcing it as they see fit. This is causing wide spread and deep human consequences.

The potential and impact of both our victories and losses in Alabama will be far reaching. Organizing resources in AL are very minimal and national solidarity and outcry against this law are imperative to whether AL sets the new standard for the level of racism, abuse and dehumanization that is acceptable and the new normal or whether this is the moment the tide really turns and laws like this become politically impossible.
What you can do:
Talk amongst your friends and organizations about how you can help build the movement nationally in support of the people of Alabama.
Learn from national solidarity organizing against Arizona’s SB 1070 (example: pass city council resolutions condemning HB 56 and committing your city to be a welcoming city to all. Organize artists to create visuals and cultures of resistance to HB 56). Also be creative and develop new ideas, then make a plan and make it happen.
Help organize an Occupy Day of Action in Solidarity with the people in AL and against racist false economic solutions such as scapegoating of immigrants.
The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice needs resources to do the organizing on the ground. Organize a fundraiser to raise awareness and funds. Show your solidarity and make a meaningful personal donation at www.acij.net. Raise the national consciousness by getting and keeping what is happening in Alabama in the media, both mainstream and social media.
We need skilled organizers on the ground in Alabama (Spanish speaking a major plus). Fundraise in your community and come to AL for 2 weeks or longer and plug into a growing and imperative movement.

Thank you for reading this update and for your solidarity and support.

For more information and updates:

Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ)

100 Reasons Why Alabama’s Immigration Law is a Disaster

Ingrid Chapman is an anti-racist activist and until recently a member of the Catalyst Project. She spent many months in New Orleans post-Katrina volunteering with Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund, Common Ground, and other organizations.

Top image: Days after HB 56 went into effect, One Family One Alabama pray outside of church of HB 56 sponsor, Senator Scott Beason. 100 people came out with a day and half notice.
Other images: 3000 people rally in Montgomery against HB 56.

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