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From the One Love Movement- A New Civil Rights Movement Starts in Alabama

Crossposted from the One Love Movement blog.

One Love Movement stands strong in solidarity with the Alabama Youth Collective, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, Cesar and Fernanda Marroquin of DreamActivist Pennsylvania, and the 11 other leaders who were arrested on November 15th during a sit-in in front and inside of the Alabama State House in Montgomery. We are humbled by this righteous act of civil disobedience, and the will and hearts of the 13 people who took a stand in the name of Civil and Human Rights. Through an act to empower and break the cycle of fear in communities oppressed by unjust laws here in Alabama, these individuals empowered and broke our fear, and the fear of many others around the United States yesterday.

As members of the Philly community, people may wonder, why Alabama? With that, we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail after he was arrested for civil disobedience, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”

Alabama’s HB 56, the harshest anti-immigrant state legislation to date, was signed into law in June 2011. The law was written to deny undocumented immigrant families access to housing, work, education, public services, and even threatens access to utilities, such as gas and water. For example, it would require elementary and middle school administrators to report undocumented students to ICE. And violating ethics of racial equality, it would give local police the power to question and investigate people upon “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented. Pieces of the law have been blocked or appealed in federal court on constitutional grounds. However, the introduction of the law in its original form has led to the isolation, fear, and oppression of an entire community of people. In a City and a State that has been historically known as the Cradle of Civil Rights, we know that HB 56, at it’s core, represents severe violations of those fundamental ideals.

In the spirit of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Sit-ins of the Alabama State University students at Montgomery State Capitol, the Freedom Riders, the Selma-to-Montgomery March, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, “How Long? Not Long!”, given from the State House steps in Montgomery on March 9, 1965 – we witnessed yesterday an act of pure courage and heart. As our communities have been so divided through labeling and isolation, this nonviolent direct action in the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, has re-centered our struggle to the values of family, unity, and human dignity.

“It’s time for all immigrant rights groups to stand up together. We are all in the same struggle. With the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, what they did here yesterday was necessary for us to move forward. I felt honored to witness such a powerful statement,” said Sokhom Touch, Organizer with One Love Movement.

Our thoughts and love are with Cesar and Fernanda, and all the other leaders who could now face deportation for being undocumented, as a result of standing up for us, for justice, and for the future of this movement. We watched them all be taken away by the police, standing proud and walking tall. We thank them deeply. #unafraid

“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law…One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream…”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
April 16, 1963

Please donate to the Bail Fund for the Alabama 13 here.

 

More stories from the ground in Alabama- Some Families Flee, Others Stay Behind and Live in Fear

Continuing the story of the Gonzales family in Birmingham, Alabama and how they have been impacted by HB 56. Previous posts include ‘Life after Alabama’s anti-immigrant law for an American family names Gonzales’ and ‘Singled out in Alabama schools.’

Guestblogger: Vesna Jaksic. Crossposted from the ACLU.

Since parts of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, H.B. 56, took effect, many families have been fleeing the state in fear. Cineo Gonzales, an Alabama resident and a father of two, talks here about those who left in a hurry, including families with children who are American citizens.

“Their children are U.S. citizens and they are running away in their own country,” said Gonzales, a taxi driver who has been receiving calls from many panicked families.

 Others stayed behind, but their lives have been anything but normal. During a visit to Alabama last week, many families told me that they now live in constant fear and are scared to go to work, school or the grocery store. From small cities like Albertville to the capital of Montgomery and in between, many Hispanic residents said they are now afraid of getting stopped by the police because the law encourages racial profiling.

“When the law passed, I didn’t work for a week,” a landscape worker from Mexico told me. “I had fear because people said police will see your face and stop you, see you’re Latino.”

The worker, who lives in Montgomery and has been in Alabama for seven years, told me he tries to only drive to work now, and is even scared to do that.

“We work to live,” he said. “If we can’t work, we can’t eat and we can’t live.”

The law affects not only the undocumented, but many legal residents and citizens as well. One high school senior told me his three siblings — all U.S. citizens — are afraid they will be separated from their mother, who is an undocumented immigrant.

“My mom just bought a home in May and she really doesn’t want to move,” said the Birmingham area resident, who is 18. “She spent her whole savings trying to build this home for us.”

He was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States since he was a baby, most of it in Alabama. He is bilingual, gets good grades and has a part-time job after school.

“They brought me here since I was one month old,” he told me. “If I go back, I don’t know what I would do.”

For a Pioneering Jurist, Alabama Anti-Immigrant Law Is Spark for a New Civil Rights Struggle

Guestblogger: Vesna Jaksic. Crossposted from the ACLU

U. W. Clemon marched in demonstrations alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., worked on desegregation in Alabama and became the state’s first African-American federal judge. He has seen great advancement of civil rights, but is very concerned about their present state.

“We are at a point in American history where powerful forces are determined to turn back the clock on the tremendous progress we made in civil rights over the last 100 years,” Clemon told me when I visited him recently in Birmingham. “And they’ve come very far in doing so.”

Clemon said that HB 56, Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, exemplifies a new civil rights crisis.

“The Alabama immigration law was designed to be the most severe, the harshest immigration law in the country,” he said. “The design, purpose of it was to drive out people who don’t look like us. In this instance it turned out to be Hispanics. Many of them, unfortunately, are American citizens, just as American as you and I.”

A recent New York Times editorial that quotes Clemon calls HB 56 “the nation’s most oppressive immigration law,” and the accompanying slide show rightly calls the response to the law “a new civil rights movement.”

Parts of the law have been in effect for less than two months, but reports have indicated the legislation has encouraged racial profilingdeterred children from going to schooland turned Alabama into a ‘show-me-your papers’ state. The ACLU and a coalition of civil rights groups have been challenging the law in the courts.

While the legal battle is ongoing, the harm on the ground has continued. Over the last few days, a mother of two told me she sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night in fear of what could happen if she is separated from her children as a result of the law. An immigrant from Mexico told me he now only goes to the grocery once every couple of weeks because he is afraid he will be pulled over due to racial profiling. A high school senior who was brought here as a one-month-old baby said this country is the only home he has ever known, and is scared his family may be forced to leave.

Clemon, now in his late 60s, said the stories emerging now out of Alabama are disturbing. He now works at a law firm after serving nearly 30 years as a federal judge. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, which turned out to be Alabama’s most controversial federal judgeship.

He told me how frustrating it is to see his state pass a law that tramples on civil rights that he and others fought to secure.

“In terms of the basic mean-spirited attitude, it’s pretty much the same now as it was then — first it was against blacks and now it’s against Hispanics,” he said, adding people should speak up against it. “It’s very disturbing and that’s why I can’t go quietly into the night.”

Photo courtesy of the ACLU

Let Children Learn — In Alabama and Beyond

Guestbloggers: Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia,  and Daniel Altschuler, a political scientist and free-lance journalist.

True or false: No child in this country can be denied a public education. The answer is true, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision, which held that schools could not exclude children based on their immigration status. This is settled law, but not for Alabama legislators, who passed an anti-immigrant law (HB 56) with a provision requiring elementary and secondary schools to determine students’ and parents’ citizenship status.

With a federal district court refusing to enjoin this provision, families with an undocumented family member are already keeping their children, including U.S. citizens, out of school. And, though an appellate court last month temporarily blocked the K-12 reporting requirement, the right to primary education access for all in our country remains in jeopardy.

This summer, civil and immigrant rights groups, religious institutions and the Department of Justice challenged HB 56 in federal court. Alabama’s law contains many troubling provisions contained in anti-immigrant laws in other states, such as Arizona and Georgia, which were blocked by federal courts. But it goes much further, including the requirement in Section 28 that K-12 school officials determine their students’ and parents’ immigration status. Although the district court blocked certain sections of the law, it allowed this piece to stand.

As with Georgia’s HB 87, proponents of HB 56 claim they are removing the drain on state resources. But, in truth, officials like Governor Robert Bentley are scapegoating immigrants for political gain at a time of economic insecurity. They have confessed their desire to expel undocumented immigrants from the state.  HB 56 sponsor Micky Hammon asserted, “This [bill] attacks every aspect of an illegal immigrant’s life… [T]his bill is designed to make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves.”

The law is so extreme that Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights,  concluded that Alabama’s “draconian initiative is so oppressive that Bull Connor himself would be impressed.” Birmingham’s former sheriff, you may recall, once used attack dogs and fire-hoses on African-American children.

Even those skeptical of immigration’s well-documented economic benefits should be appalled by Alabama officials’ willingness to target children. In addition to violating the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause, Section 28 is morally repugnant. It uses state power to keep immigrant children, who bear no responsibility for their status, out of school. Moreover, while so many Alabama public schools are failing, the law unconscionably redirects scarce education resources towards immigration policing.

Finally, as the Court held in Plyler, “It is difficult to understand precisely what the State hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime.”

Sadly, HB 56 may reflect a larger national trend. In May, the Department of Justice issued a memo reaffirming the illegality of asking students about their immigration status. This followed illegal reporting requirements and efforts in other states to pass education provisions similar to HB 56. Recent reports by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for instance, found that roughly 20 percent of New York and New Jersey public school districts requested information from students that would indicate their immigration status. Similar practices abound in Arizona, where fully half of school districts surveyed by the ACLU sought such information.

The Department of Justice was right to issue its memo, and to seek data from Alabama school districts in the wake of HB 56′s passage to investigate potential violations of civil rights statutes which protect educational opportunities for schoolchildren. It must be even more vigilant about illegal school reporting policies across the country, which may rise as restrictionist officials seek to copy HB 56.

It is encouraging that the appellate court temporarily blocked the education provision of HB 56. But beating Section 28 in court, while essential, will not by itself ensure that all American children can go to school without fear.  Legislators and education officials around the country must take heed: our classrooms are no place for the refrain, “Papers, please.”

Crossposted from the Huffington Post.

A version of this article first appeared in the Fulton County Daily Report. Reprinted with permission from the October 28, 2011 issue of the Daily Report © 2011 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of 12uspost.com

A Wish for the Holidays- Let’s Keep Families Together

Guestblogger: Chris Harley, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

Do you have a wish for this holiday season? I do. I wish that all families can stay together. That’s why I’m participating in A Wish for the Holidays, a campaign to gather 5,000 letters from kids asking our nation’s leaders to ensure that families stay together.

For me, holidays all boil down to spending time with my large extended family. Honestly, I don’t know how we all crowd into my Gramma’s 2-bedroom, one-story home, but most holidays, we manage to all squeeze in and enjoy a crazy day full of laughter, teasing, eating, and sharing. Like that one Christmas, when an innocent game of White Elephant gift exchanging turned into a chase around the house as my Aunt attempted to reclaim a new movie from her nephew.

In total, there are roughly 60 of us, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, kids, and great-grandkids. We come from all different backgrounds, religions, political views, and walks of life. We’re also a uniquely mixed-race family full of boisterous personalities. And every time we get together, despite all of our differences, I know that we embody the value of what it means to be a family.

This is why it breaks my heart to think of families and children who will spend this holiday season missing those who aren’t there with them. Recently, the We Belong Together effort led a delegation of women leaders to Atlanta, Georgia. Our goal was to listen to the experiences of women and children in Atlanta who have been impacted by Georgia’s new “papers please” law. This law makes it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to live in the state and allows law enforcement to ask for documentation of anyone they “suspect” of being undocumented. The overarching fear from this, and similar state laws, is the risk of widespread racial profiling and abuse. So we went to Georgia to hear what was happening, and the stories we heard were heartbreaking.

Alicia spoke about her daughter, who suffers from a condition that causes her to have convulsions since she was one years old. Since Alicia doesn’t have a driver’s license, she only risks driving when she must rush her daughter to the hospital. Can you imagine what it means to be a mother whose only thought is to make sure her child is safe, and the most dangerous thing she can do is to risk driving to the hospital because if she were to be stopped by the police, she could be arrested and separated from her child?

Another woman, Claudia told us about the extreme abuse that her husband subjected her and her son to. Once he even chased them around their neighborhood with a knife until a neighbor called the police. Yet, because Claudia doesn’t have the right documents, she was deported and forced to leave her son with his abusive father until she could make her way back into this country and reclaim him. Can you imagine her terror and her son’s fear during that year of separation?

Unfortunately, we now know that those stories are no longer isolated incidents. The recently released “Shattered Families”, report documents just how devastating the impacts of enforcement-only immigration policies have on families. There are now at least 5,000 children in the American foster care system who are being prevented from being reunited with their detained or deported parents and this number is expected to exceed 15,000 in just five (5) years. Moreover, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention obstructs the ability for parents to participate in Child Protective Services’ family unification plans, and can result in detained parents actually losing their parental rights.

Are these the “family values” that we want this country to embody? What happened to caring about the children, who are our future?

We need to tell our country’s leaders that these policies, that tear families apart and leave children alone, isolated, and separated from their parents – who only wanted them to have a brighter future -  that these policies don’t work. That’s why We Belong Together, has launched the “A Wish for the Holidays,”  campaign where we are asking our kids, our future, to tell today’s leaders to keep families together! Our goal is to collect 5,000 letters that can be delivered on Human Rights Day, to elected leaders in DC and remind them that it’s the holidays, and families belong together.

Please help us collect letters from children and youth.  Go to WeBelongTogether.org/wish, pledge to write letters, and then get started using the tools available online.  Remember that letters need to be mailed in by November 30.

Thank you and happy holidays!

 

Singled Out in Alabama Schools

Guestblogger: Molly Kaplan. Crossposted from the ACLU

A New York Times editorial this weekend calls out Alabama’s attorney general, Luther Strange, for stonewalling the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) attempt to look into possible civil rights violations since Alabama’s anti-immigrant law went into effect. The DOJ, following up on reports that students were being bullied in the classroom and that parents were keeping their children out of school, asked 39 superintendents for information on student absences and withdrawals since the start of the academic year. To this, Strange said no, challenging the DOJ’s legal authority to investigate.

While the DOJ starts its investigation, the ACLU has been on the ground since September when the law went into effect, tracking the impact of the law on farms, families and schools. What we’re finding, particularly in schools, is evidence of racial profiling and discrimination.

In a video released today, Cineo Gonzales, a Birmingham taxi driver, recounts how — in front of the entire class — his daughter, along with one other Latino student, received a Spanish-language pamphlet explaining the law. When Gonzales asked why the teacher gave the document to his daughter, the principal told him that they only gave the document to children who looked like weren’t from there.

Gonzales’ daughter was born in Alabama. She follows Alabama college football, is an A student and dressed up as a good witch for Halloween. Gonzales’ daughter was racially profiled — an occurrence that has become too common in the wake of this law.

We will continue to report our observations and findings on the ground in Alabama. For further resources and information on the impacts of HB 56 in Alabama, check  www.aclu.org/crisisinAL.

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)