Alabama’s HB 56: A Perspective from California

Guestblogger: Xiomara Corpeño, National Campaign Director for CHIRLA. Cross-posted from the Rights Working Group blog.
While we celebrate the victory of California Dream, we must also take action against the worst anti-immigrant law in the history of our country, Alabama’s HB56.
California youth have helped advance immigrant justice once again with the historic passage of the California Dream Act, AB130 and AB131, which opens up access to state financial aid for undocumented students. With a January 2013 implementation date for the larger of the two bills, these laws will allow undocumented college students  to receive state-funded financial aid.
In recent years, California has seen its share of ballot measures that seek to repeal laws passed by the legislature. It is a sad circumvention of democracy, as ballot measures often win based on infusions of corporate dollars and distorted facts rather than the true and informed will of the people. Immigrant leaders do not want to take any chances of diverting resources for proactive, pro-immigrant measures to deal with an anti-immigrant ballot attack. If you are interested in the efforts to protect the California Dream Act, please contact Joseph Villela.
While we celebrate the victory of California Dream, we must also take action against the worst anti-immigrant law in the history of our country, signed into law in June 2011 and became law in September in Alabama. HB56 is an even greater violation of civil and human rights than the 2005 Sensenbrenner Bill, HR4437, and its purpose is to create a state of fear for all immigrants and people who “look like immigrants.” A lawsuit has been launched by a coalition of civil rights organizations, churches, and. most recently. by the federal government. While some provisions of the law have been enjoined for now, the litigation process has been mostly ineffective, with conservative judges leaving most of the provisions of HB56 in place. Among some of the provisions that are in effect:
• Law enforcement officers are authorized to check the immigration status of people they stop, detain, or arrest who they reasonably suspect are in the country unlawfully;
• The law requires people to prove their immigration status when they enter into a “business transaction” with the state of Alabama and makes it a felony for an unauthorized immigrant to enter into a “business transaction” with the state of Alabama. Business transactions include applying for a license plate, applying for or renewing a driver’s license, and applying for a business license;
• The law invalidates all contracts between an unauthorized immigrant and another person, except for one night’s lodging, food purchases, and medical services. Contracts include child support, rental, loan, and other agreements;
• The law requires law enforcement to transport those arrested for driving without a license
to the nearest magistrate and to check their immigration status.
Abuses against the civil rights of immigrants are not new in Alabama. In some counties, judges refuse to marry couples unless they can “show papers,” including a social security card, but there is no doubt that this is a worse attack on immigrant rights, even more regressive than SB1070 in Arizona. On a national level, defeating this law must become a priority. North Carolina and other states are considering copying this legislation since it has passed judicial tests. The impact on immigrant families is devastating. Thousands of children are missing from school, and those that are left are scared they will not see their parents when they come home from school each day. Women are afraid to go to prenatal visits, and even legal permanent residents are afraid of being racially profiled. Yet, there is hope across the state as black and white allies stand up against HB56. Students at Oakwood College, a traditionally Christian black college, did not know about the bill until the youth they serve in an after-school program just stopped showing up. They organized a What About the Children demonstration in Montgomery, two hours away from campus, in order to lend their support to the community. White women whose husbands are immigrants are protesting the law. The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice has enlisted national and other immigrant rights groups to help respond to this humanitarian crisis. Grassroots organizers from across the country, including RWG member CHIRLA, have gone to Alabama to support local efforts, provide Know Your Rights trainings, and help identify new leadership throughout the state.
Alabama and California are on opposite poles of the immigrant right struggle. The many victories in California serve as a light of hope for communities in Alabama as well as Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina. We must defend these victories here in California while taking swift and decisive action to support the movement for justice in Alabama and across the country.
Photo courtesy of rightsworkinggroup.org (“What About the Children” protests in Montgomery, Alabama)