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No to ‘Hate Bill’ 56:

Campaign aims to stop attacks on immigrants in Alabama

Published Dec 5, 2011 8:58 PM

A militant crowd of over 3,000 gather on the streets outside the 16th St. Baptist Church for the launch of a national campaign to defeat Alabama HB 56--the most repressive anti-immigrant legislation in the U.S.
WW photos: Minnie Bruce Prate

The event demonstrated a historic unity between the Black Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for immigrant rights. The rally was held in the evening at the 16th Street Baptist Church, a monument of activism in the Black Civil Rights Movement since the 1963 racist bombing that claimed the lives of four young African-American girls.

Alabama HB 56 — in effect since Sept. 1 — is the harshest of the various state anti-immigrant laws. Among its 30 provisions, the bill makes it a crime to give a ride or provide shelter to undocumented immigrants; prohibits many documented immigrants from attending any public college or university in the state; and requires public school officials to ask children about the legal status of their parents.

The bill was drafted in part by staff associated with the so-called Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group listed as a “nativist hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The bill’s architects in the Alabama Legislature, Rep. Micky Hammon and Sen. Scott Beason, have ties to the construction, forestry and energy industries, and to state retail merchants. Both are endorsed by The Alabama Tea Party Express.

The Nov. 21 rally launched a campaign against the racist law by the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, under the banner, “Una Familia, Un Alabama” (“One Family, One Alabama”).

The campaign was built to coincide with an 11-person congressional fact-finding investigation about the impact of the anti-immigrant legislation. The investigative hearings were headed by Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Taskforce; and by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), the first Black woman elected to Congress from Alabama; along with Black, Latino/a, and other congressional representatives from Arizona, California, New York and Texas. (acij.net)

Firsthand oral testimony by immigrants to this ad hoc congressional committee in a meeting at City Hall earlier that day — and to a previous delegation of Black labor leaders on Nov. 17 — reveal what the Southern Poverty Law Center has called “a crisis that hearkens back to the bleakest days of [Alabama’s] racial history.”

Mary Hooks, an organizer for
Southerners on New Ground, says
“LGBTQ people against HB 56!”

The SPLC says HB 56 has “devastated the immigrant community of Alabama.” (acij.net)

In the week after HB 56 went into effect, 2,000 Latino/a children reportedly stayed away from school and many families fled the state. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that thousands of calls for help included: A Latino man arrested and detained in jail under HB 56 who was told he could not use the telephone to call a lawyer because using the phone would be a “business transaction” outlawed by HB 56. A woman who went to court for a protective order against domestic violence who was told she would be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A group of Latino workers on a construction job site who were confronted by a group of men with guns threatening to kill them if they were there the following day. (acij.net)

Many Alabama cities are now refusing undocumented workers access to basic services like water, gas and sewage hookups; employers cite HB 56 as justification for refusing to pay undocumented workers; documented immigrants have been denied driver’s licenses; many undocumented and documented immigrants have been arrested. (acij.net)

‘We will win because we are united!’

An exuberant, determined crowd of more than 3,000 people of diverse nationalities gathered here Nov. 21 to launch a national campaign to turn back Alabama’s recently enacted extreme anti-immigrant legislation, known as HB 56. Participants came from all corners of the state — Russellville to Mobile, Oneonta to Montevallo.

The crowd at tonight’s rally overflowed the church capacity and thronged in the streets around it.

Thousands in the streets repeatedly broke into chants of “¡Sí, se puede!” (“Yes, we can”) and “Who is Alabama? We are Alabama! ¿Quiénes Alabama? ¡Somos Alabama!”

Organizers from the multinational Alabama Youth Collective, part of a network against the Alabama assault on immigrants, stretched out a huge banner with silhouettes of those resisting. These young people were asking for support for their friends Isaac Barrera and Jonathan Perez, detained by ICE after an immigrant rights demonstration the week before. Group spokesperson Fernanda Marroquin emphasized, “This movement must be led in the streets!” (DREAMactivist.org)

Cries of “¡Sí, se puede!” rang out when legendary Latina organizer-activist Dolores Huerta — the first to use that phrase — spoke of the potentially powerful use of boycott. She recalled the bus boycott of the Alabama Black Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and the grape boycott of the primarily Chicano and Chicana United Farm Workers in the 1960s, as well as the current boycott of the state of Arizona, called because of its anti-immigrant laws.

Huerta concluded, “We will win because we are united! ¡En la huelga, abajo HB 56!” (“On strike, down with HB 56!”)

Judge U.W. Clemon, Alabama’s first African-American federal judge, likened the anti-immigrant law to “the kind of racial oppression we saw half a century ago. We have no choice but to put back on our marching shoes!” Clemon advocated “noncooperation” with the unjust law, in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., whom he recalled advocating this tactic from that very same church podium.

Birmingham Mayor William Bell compared HB 56 to apartheid and Jim Crow segregation.

Roderick Royal, the City Council president, vowed: “We will say ‘No’ to every reincarnated George Wallace in the state of Alabama!” Wallace was the Alabama governor in the 1960s who railed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Present also were many veterans of the Black Civil Rights Movement.

Rising resistance to ‘Hate Bill’ 56

Resistance to what some Latino/a demonstrators are calling “Juan Crow” has been rising in the immigrant community. Immigrant workers in Albertville refused to report to work in chicken processing plants in October, virtually shutting down that center of the state’s $2.7 billion poultry industry. The Latino/a community also boycotted the public schools and closed businesses.

Bringing that community resistance to the rally, José Antonio Castro presented a box of 50,000 signatures from a “repeal HB 56” petition. Castro is the director of station programming for WQCR La Jefa, Alabama’s only Spanish-language radio station.

Castro collected the signatures during a 14-city walking and broadcast tour dubbed “Ruta 56.” Beginning in Athens in the northern part of the state, he ended at a rally of 500 people against HB 56 in Montgomery on Nov. 19.

Castro handed the box of signed petitions to Alabama state Sen. Billy Beasley, saying: “The voice of the people is heavy.”

Beasley, a sponsor of a proposed bill to repeal HB 56, characterized HB 56 as the “meanest, most hate-filled, racist law” he had ever seen passed. Beasley noted in a quote in the Oct. 7 Birmingham News that HB 56 was causing workforce shortages in many industries, including agriculture.

Corporate pressure to push back the bill accelerated on Nov. 20, when the HB 56 law was invoked in the arrest of a German Mercedes-Benz executive for driving without his license. The company is mounting a $289 million expansion at its Vance assembly complex.

Alabama newspaper headlines warned, “Foreign Investment Worries Grow,” and editorials alerted the state’s capitalists to the negative impact of HB 56 on Alabama’s economy, heavily dependent on manufacturing investment from outside the U.S.

Grass-roots power: ‘Fired up! Ready to go’

The genuine grass-roots power to overturn HB 56 was visible and audible at this rally.

An undocumented 16-year-old high school student spoke of how he crossed the Río Grande River on his father’s back when he was three years old, and has lived in Alabama ever since. He said to the crowd, “You in front of me are hope — esperanza! I am not leaving! I am undocumented and unafraid!”

The struggle to repeal HB 56 is a broad-based national action. Speakers at this evening’s kickoff rally for the “Una Familia, Un Alabama” campaign included the president of the National Conference on Civil and Human Rights — representing a coalition of 200 organizations, the international executive vice president of the 2.1 million strong Service Employees union, and a senior vice president of the NAACP.

Members of the multinational Occupy Birmingham contingent passed out bilingual leaflets to the crowd outside the church. The leaflets, headlined “Somos El 99%,” announced a protest of HB56 at the ICE Center in Gadsden on Dec. 12.

ACIJ volunteers handed out cards with “Text UNITY to 69866” to receive text messaging alerts about growing opposition to HB 56.

Mary Hooks, an African-American organizer with Southerners on New Ground (SONG), held up a printed protest placard to which she had added her own inked words: “LGBTQ organizer.”

As the rally drew to a close, people began to say farewell — until the next meeting in the struggle. A last speaker announced actions on Dec. 17 and Feb. 7 in Montgomery. The crowd responded in a thunderous chant: “Fired up! Ready to go!”