Monday, October 3, 2011

Anti-Immigration in Alabama--Ten Steps Backward

I took this picture in Philadelphia over a year ago. As I have looked at the photo many times I have wondered about this woman. Where did she come from? How long has she been in the States? Does she have a family? Does she have enough money to make ends meet? Does she miss home? Does she sometimes feel strange standing in a grocery store line trying to understand the money and the checkers?

Did she wish she had never come here? I hope not. I hope she found some of her dreams coming true. I hope she wakes up with a little smile on her face. I hope she feel safe in America.

A lot of us in Alabama were holding our breath hoping that U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn would throw out this state's far-reaching immigration law recently. We were greatly disappointed. Months ago the State Legislature adopted the most stringent anti-immigration laws in the country. Some called this new law: “a great victory for the state of Alabama.” Judge Blackburn ruled that most of the law would stand as written. Here are some of the key provisions which now go into effect.

· Police can detain suspects to verify citizenship status.

· Public schools must check the citizenship status of enrolling students.

· Contracts knowingly entered into with an illegal immigrant are nullified.

· Every employer in the state will enroll in E-Verify to check citizenship status of all employees.

· Illegal immigrants face felony charges for applying for license plates, business of driver’s licenses.

Once again Alabama has written discriminatory policies into our law books. Many Hispanics have already left Alabama. Contractors and farmers are up in arms because many of the good workers that they counted on have just left this state. We took our lead from Georgia and Arizona’s anti-immigration laws—but Alabama goes much further than these other states.

I watched little Hispanic children holding hands at the Y in a special program we provide for pre-schoolers. These were beautiful children, well dressed and having a good time. And as I saw them walk by I wondered what kind of a future they will have in this state. How will they feel when they are singled out in schools? How do they feel as their parents have been forced to uproot them from the only homes they have known because they are not wanted in this state?

Most of us came over on a boat from somewhere else. Have we forgotten that our own forebears were once standing where these folk stand? One of the many dark days in our history when we incarcerated Japanese during the War years because of fear. It is one of the darkest spots on President Roosevelt’s tenure as President. Visiting Ellis Island some time ago I read the story of those who came here with dreams for a better life. This plaque below shows how many felt in this country at that time.

Want to read a heartbreaking story of how it feels to be “undocumented?” Last Sunday’s Birmingham News carried a lead op ed piece written by Alfonso del Carmen who shows us what it feels like to live in the United States and feel rejected and unsafe. She writes that “since the approval of this law, a racist climate has arisen...treating us as if we were criminals.” I don’t think we have heard the last of this sorry law. Many groups still work for peace and justice for all. I have written more than once about what Elie Wiesel said about this situation. “There are no such thing as any human being called illegal. No one is illegal. That word was used early on by those who opened up the gas chambers in Germany.

We’ve worked hard in this state to overcome the word, Bombingham, the pictures of fire hoses and dogs attacking protesters. We’ve come a long way in this state in many ways. But this discriminatory anti-immigration law reminds us that we still have a long way to go.

(You might be interested in the story in today's  Birmingham News about 80 people who picketed the church where Scott Beason worships last Sunday. He is the legislator that sponsored the contrroversial immigration law. He was also caught saying black folk were aborigines when he thought the sound was off recently.)

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