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Alabamans march against HB 56, harshest anti-immigrant state law yet

By Laura Langley |
June 27, 2011
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March for immigrant rights in Alabama
March for immigrant rights in Alabama (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Birmingham, AL – Nearly 2500 people came together here, June 25, to march and speak out against Alabama House Bill 56 (HB 56), recently signed into law by Governor Bentley. The bill is being called “the harshest anti-immigrant state law in the nation.” While many immigrant rights activists say, “the bill was inspired by SB 1070 in Arizona”, others describe the law as, “a pre-civil rights movement Jim Crow law enforcing inequality.” The new law is set to take effect on Sept. 1.

HB 56 turns K-12 public school teachers into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Schools will now be required to determine the immigration status of all their students at enrollment. HB 56 encourages teachers to report undocumented children and their families. This provision is meant to discourage undocumented families from enrolling their young ones into school, denying them a right to an education. The new law also places a ban on undocumented students attending any state colleges or universities. HB 56 makes it a crime to rent housing to undocumented people and even goes so far as to criminalize providing any form of transportation to undocumented people. The law requires police officers to racially profile and hold people in custody until their immigration status is determined.

Overwhelmingly, protesters wore white and carried candles to symbolize unity. The march began with prayers in both Spanish and English from Islamic, Christian and Jewish faith leaders. Protesters marched in dignified silence, at the request of the organizers. Activists at tables around the gathering site gathered petitions demanding the repeal of HB 56.

One of the organizers, Scott Douglas, head of the antipoverty group Greater Birmingham Ministries, looked at the very diverse crowd of protesters and announced, "You look like Alabama to me."

Students for a Democratic Society activist Scott Daniel, said, "Organizers expected 1000 protesters, and there are well over 2000 people here. That just goes to show that the people of Alabama will not be silenced, that our voices will be heard."

The protest drew the attention of local and national media, and it certainly drew the attention of Alabama's lawmakers who seek to criminalize and deny the rights of undocumented people. A broad movement of immigrant rights groups, religious organizations, farmers, small businesses, civil rights groups and students are uniting in state after state to oppose these new separate and unequal laws. The South is seeing a new movement for legalization and equality.

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