Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Alabama rolls out the unwelcome mat

The state of Alabama is home sweet home to 4,779,736 residents. Some of whom are now not welcomed according to the Southern state's new immigration law, HB 56. Some of the provisions required by the law include: public schools must document the immigration status of its students; the state will have the ability to charge an individual with a criminal offense if they cannot provide proof of legal status; police will have the ability to ask for proof of legal status if they have reasonable suspicion of the individual being undocumented. You can find the full text of HB 56 here.

Labor and Economics

Is it another scapegoat story? Job insecurity runs rampant throughout the country and who can we blame for the lack of jobs? Immigrants! Elections are around the corner, the blaming frenzy is at an all time high. It's a well worn story, when fiscal hard times hit communities, fingers point to the borders. HB 56 is strategically referred to as the "Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act." The law's rhetoric attempts to pitt working class communities against immigrant communities. For what? Some of the worst and exploitative jobs available.

A recent article in the Nation Magazine discusses how politicians are fixated with "fake economics" in order to alleviate concerns over an ever rising unemployed population. However, as the statement below indicates, immigrants play a critical role in our nation's economy.
The architects of this mandate claim that if we drive undocumented workers away, there will be more jobs for American citizens. Years of evidence and early reports from Alabama tell a different story. Famers are already reporting a crisis in their workforce that will hobble harvests and drive food prices higher. One farmer reported that he had only eleven citizens apply for the picking jobs after his crew left, only one stayed to take the job after learning what was entailed—and that man quit after one day. Alabama farmer Chad Smith told Forbes, “The tomatoes are rotting in the vine, and there is very little we can do.” “We will be lucky to be in business next year,” he added.
One critical component that the HB 56 bill has brought to light is the exploitative working conditions that many undocumented workers must succumb to in the agricultural, dairy and poultry industries. Many citizens do not want to take the jobs left behind by undocumented workers. Not because they're lazy, it is just inhumane exploitative working conditions for extremely low wages. Denying immigrant communities employment or an education does not automatically guarantee U.S. citizens job security or a better education. Many immigrants also pay taxes and contribute to local economies.

Targeting a Population?

Many are criticizing the new immigration law claiming that it will open the flood gates for legalized racial profiling. The state's immigration law preempts federal immigration law and pushes the boundaries set up by the Constitution's Supremacy Clause that states the only the federal government can create and enforce immigration laws. Professor Kevin Johnson was asked by ColorLines to comment on the status of the case against the state
[Kevin] Johnson, the UC Davis law professor, said that this ruling sets up the next stage of the legal fight that will likely end up in the Supreme Court. “Part of what this tells me is there is some conflict between this case and the DOJ’s case versus Arizona,” Johnson said. “It makes it all the more likely this is going to end up in the Supreme Court’s hands.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has systematically targeted Latino immigrants and deported over a million people throughout the country during the past 3 years. Despite the fact that Latinos make up for only 65-67 percent of the immigrant population, 90 percent of those detained and deported are Latinos. It is being reported that this is the greatest number of deportations in this nation's history. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) just released their latest figures here.

Alabama's Rich History

The civil rights movement has strong roots in Alabama. The activist Rosa Parks initiated a city wide bus boycott in Montgomery. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" when he was arrested for protesting segregation in his home town. Given this dynamic history, why are so many commentators still saying "Well, that's Alabama for you." I think we should be able to challenge these notions that the whole state of Alabama is inherently racist.

There is evidence of a growing grassroots movement within the state that is resisting the state's unjust law and challenging residents of Alabama to address the real problems their facing. Church leaders, farmers, contractors and community civil leaders all stand against the bill. As an act of protest people are not showing up to work, temporarily closing down businesses and refusing to send their children to public school. An Alabama resident said this to the Associated Press about the actions

"We closed because we need to open the eyes of the people who are operating this state," said Contreras, originally from the Dominican Republic and a U.S. citizen. "It's an example of if the law pushes too much, what will happen."

Currently, the law has been blocked by the 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals on two of the law's provisions. It seems that the fate of undocumented communities in Alabama lies on two separate factors: the nation's high courts and the support from members of the community. As suggested in many news stories, draconian laws such as these only build up anxiety amongst the general population and systematically separates people from their friends, families and communities.

Note: I choose not to use the term "alien" to describe people without legal documents. I understand the term is used as a way to describe people who are foreign-born and hold citizenship status in a country outside of the United States. However, there are ways to describe this population without using the term "alien." This term connotes derogatory and dehumanizing meanings. In this manner, by classifying whole populations under such a label denies the ability for people to connect to the plight of an individual or a whole community that may be labeled as such. The word "alien" and all other derogatory words act as a linguistic segregation that have material effects. Undocumented people in the U.S. should be treated with dignity as it is a fundamental human right. I'm appalled that the term continues to be used in our legal institutions and laws.

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