Opponents say Alabama’s ‘Juan Crow’ immigration law causes fear, anxiety

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Cronkite News Service

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – If the goal of state immigration laws was to make life so uncomfortable for illegal immigrants that they leave on their own, it may be working under HB 56 in Alabama.

“HB 56 has caused a chain reaction that prevents Hispanics from living with dignity,” said Trini Garcia, who came to Alabama on a tourist visa 15 years ago and stayed after it expired.

“I never thought Arizona’s law was going to come to Alabama,” she said. “Now it’s created chaos among Hispanics in Alabama.”

Garcia was one of several speakers Monday at a hearing called by congressional Democrats who traveled to Birmingham to rally opposition to HB 56, the state anti-immigration law patterned after Arizona’s SB 1070.

Even though parts of the Alabama law have been blocked by courts – including a temporary restraining order issued against one provision Wednesday by a federal district judge – Garcia continues to worry about the law, which took effect Sept. 29.

HB 56 has caused her family to hide in their Tuscaloosa home and only go out if necessary, she said. The family has cut off all extracurricular activities for her two American-born sons.

“Now I don’t go out and feel like a prisoner in my house,” she said. “We just don’t want to stand out.”

The family needs to renew the state-required registration on its mobile home, and the license plates on their cars are set to expire next year. If the law is still in place by then, they will not be able to drive, she said.

“If we can’t get to work, we’re going to have to leave,” Garcia said.

That’s fine with supporters of the law.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, credited as the author of both SB 1070 and HB 56, said the law “creates in incentive for illegal immigrants to self-deport.” Or as Alabama state Rep. Jim Patterson puts it, if people like Garcia are breaking immigration law “they should go back home.”

State Rep. Terri Collins said that if immigrants do not want to be in Garcia’s situation they should fix their legal status.

“I don’t understand why people would chose to live under the law,” Collins said.

Kobach said Garcia’s situation “is not unique to Alabama, Arizona or any other place.” Immigrants like her, with American-born children, need only take them back to their home countries and wait until the children are adults, at which point they could come to the U.S. any time they want, he said.

Like SB 1070, HB 56 requires that local police check the immigration status of any suspect and turn them over to federal officials if they are undocumented. But while one federal court blocked implementation of that provision in Arizona, another has refused to block it in Alabama.

HB 56 would also have prohibited the state from doing any business with a person who could not prove he is a legal resident of Alabama, among other provisions. That threatened to keep Garcia from reregistering her mobile home, but a federal district judge temporarily blocked that provision late Wednesday.

Another provision that was blocked by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would have required that Alabama public school officials check the immigration status of newly enrolled students.

Even though it has been blocked for now, Garcia said the “damage has already been done” to her children.

“My kids feel like they are being watched,” she said of her 10- and 13-year-old boys.

While she weighs her options, Garcia said the last thing she wants to do is move her family.

“My children have the right to live in the place they call home,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Justice has sued Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina over immigration-enforcement laws passed in those states, and it added Utah to the list Tuesday.

Supporters of HB 56 have said it was only meant to target undocumented immigrants, but now concede that legal immigrants and American citizens have been affected, too. Some state legislators who voted for the law now say they are willing to “tweak” it.

But Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said Monday that HB 56 is beyond tweaking.

“We did not amend segregation laws, we ended them,” Green said. “HB 56 can’t be amended, it deserves to be in the trash heap of history.”

Until then, Garcia said she hopes federal courts will continue to block the Alabama law until some day when Congress can pass federal immigration-reform legislation.

“We’re just waiting for some good news,” she said.

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Web Links:

_ Text for HB 56: http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/acas/searchableinstruments/2011rs/bills/hb56.htm

_ Alabama State Legislature: http://www.legislature.state.al.us/

_ Text of SB 1070: http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/sb1070s.pdf

_ Wednesday order temporarily blocking part of HB 56: http://www.scribd.com/doc/73618266/Judge-Blocks-Business-Transaction-Section-of-HB56

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One young protester references Alabama’s Jim Crow past to show displeasure over the state’s new immigration law, HB 56, at a protest Monday in Birmingham. (Cronkite News Service photo by Uriel J. Garcia)


Organizers claimed that as many as 2,000 opponents of Alabama’s immigration law, HB 56, gathered Monday outside a hearing by Democratic congressmen in Birmingham. (Cronkite News Service photo by Uriel J. Garcia)


Protesters make their feelings about Alabama’s HB 56 known at a rally outside the historic 16th Street Baptist Church where a congressional delegation held a hearing about the law Monday. (Cronkite News Service photo by Uriel J. Garcia)