As I left my health club this afternoon I saw a Hispanic mother and three small children walking to their car. I stopped the car, rolled down the window and said, “I want you to know that I am very angry about this immigration bill. I went to the meeting downtown yesterday and just wanted to say that I am glad you are here.” Great big tears formed at the corner of her eyes. She smiled got into her car and drove away. I moved toward home thinking about that woman and her family and the meeting I attended the day before in downtown Birmingham.
Eleven Congressmen from across the country came to Birmingham to listen to the stories that immigrants had to tell. I decided to take the long trip downtown and wondered who would show up. I was not disappointed. The room at City Hall was packed. As I walked in I saw an ancient Hispanic woman being helped up the steps by a family member. There were quite a few young people. There were a great many African Americans present. Hispanics also crowded into the room. There were a good number of white folk there, too. It was an American audience—all ages, all colors, some well heeled and some poor.
The visiting Congressmen sat in a semi-circle at the front. I was afraid maybe our out-of-state guests might talk to long. Not so. They were conscious that we were all there to hear stories from members of the Hispanic community. U.S. Representative Terri Sewell, a Birmingham Democrat was there along with the Mayor and Sheriff of the county. Mayor Bell said that our immigration bill smacked of Apartheid and Jim Crowism. Sheriff Hale talked about the difficulty of trying to enforce these new laws and reminded us that his staff is seriously understaffed and not equipped to enforce this anti-immigration bill. One speaker said, “We are a nation of laws but more a nation of people.” Another person reminded us that we are a nation of immigrants and most of us came from somewhere else. We were told that there are 11 million illegal immigrants in our country and that our immigration policy is seriously broken. All these comments set the stage for us to listen to those people who were called “the witnesses.”