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Resisting Alabama's Anti-Immigrant Legislation

Jim Rhodes: As opposition to these insane laws began to grow, thanks to students and the Occupy movement, attacks on the laws begin to intensify.
bessemer high school

Students at James A. Davis Middle School in Bessemer, Alabama, celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

This week saw more protests here in Montgomery, Alabama, over HB 56, our version of Arizona’s SB 1070, the anti-immigration bill. Little to no coverage was generated on Alabama television and public radio (“Bubba Media”), which ridiculed and belittled the social activists. This approach is a common theme in Republican-controlled states: ignore the obvious, attack the opposition, divert attention tofromwhat is really going on, put into play fear and prejudices under cover of patriotism and fundamentalist Christianity.

Alabama HB 56 and Arizona’s SB 1070 are linked together through FAIR (Federation for Immigration Reform), ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), and the Republican Party.

Through uniform legislation introduced in Republican states, FAIR alleges to “provide jobs, increase national security” and specifically in Alabama “increase labor opportunities for (legal) Alabama residents, increase wages, reduce dependence on welfare and social programs, provide a more stable work force, reduce state crime, educational and medical costs…”

ALEC alleges to be a “non-partisan association of state legislators” that introduces “model bills” relating to workers and consumers rights, the environment, energy, agriculture, tax reform, gun laws, state budgets…” In reality their “model bills” introduced in Republican controlled states have always been anti-labor, anti-consumer, anti-public education, anti-green energy, anti-environment, anti-social program, anti-women, pro-gun, pro-big business, pro-private (for profit) prison, and pro-corporate agriculture masked in patriotism and fundamentalist Christianity.

Arizona legislator Russell Pearce spearheaded anti-immigrant legislation (SB 1070), written in part by FAIR & ALEC, that was supported and endorsed by various hate groups, including the neo-Nazis and now-deceased mass murderer, J.T. Ready. Although Pearce now disavows his association with Ready, Pearce did support Ready when he was a candidate for Mesa City Council. Additionally, both knew each other through activities in the Mormon Church.

Sadly, presidential candidate Mitt Romney called SB 1070 a “model for America.” And more telling, the Corrections Corporation of America acknowledged that with the passage of SB 1070 “there would be a big market (of incarcerated illegal aliens)…”

Pearce became the first Arizona legislator removed from office through the recall process; however, his dedication to the principles FAIR and ALEC pushed through the machinery of the Republican Party got him an immediate reward as he was appointed Vice Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party.

With the blessings of Romney and (then) Republican front runners, HB 56 became law in Republican-controlled Alabama. A month-long series of protest ensured spearheaded primarily by young people of Occupy Birmingham, and students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Samford, Birmingham Southern, Montevallo, Jefferson State College, and student and reform groups throughout the state. The law was also condemned by numerous civil rights groups and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Xiamora Blasco

Student with teacher Xiamora Blasco

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William Anderson, a social work major and activist at UAB, pointed out at several of these protests out the link between for-profit prisons, private investors, and HB 56. “Wells Fargo has invested $5.9 million while Bank of America has invested $88.7 million to promote the private prison industry…anti-immigrant groups like FAIR, ALEC, and private prison lobbyists influence state legislators like Scott Beason to act on prejudices and pass legislation like HB 56…”

According to Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, “John Tanton is the racist architect of the modern anti-immigration movement. The organizations he founded (including FAIR) have done more to inject fear and bigotry into the immigration debate than any other…”

Regarding creating more stable jobs for (real) Alabama residents, Mary Bauer, SPLC’s legal director, recently posted a three-minute video on the SPLC website, which said, “Remember, Alabama lawmakers promised a better tomorrow, but their law left crops rotting in the fields. Farm workers, regardless of their immigration status, fled the state rather than live under this law. Farmers were left searching for workers as their livelihoods teetered in the balance. Today, farmers outside Alabama visit the state to see the damage first hand…”

The Republican state Agricultural Commissioner, John McMillan, admitted, “You don’t have far to go to find out whether the state’s new immigration law has impacted Alabama’s economy. Produce goes unpacked and fields are partially harvested across the state…poultry farmers report an exodus of hundreds of Latinos….construction contractors have similar stories…” But in keeping with the Republican Party line, Commissioner McMillan concluded his comments by adding, “There is a debate whether these effects are positive or negative.”

As opposition to these insane laws began to grow, thanks to students and the Occupy movement, attacks on the laws begin to intensify. Students, it is alleged by right-wing conservatives, are “unduly influenced by “Communist and Socialist” professors, which may explain their opposition to public education. Fox News, just this week, implied Occupy was a “terrorist organization…opposed to democracy…” In November the National Review called Occupy a “Communist,” “criminal,” and “Marxist” organization.

Sometimes, positive change can be found in the most unexpected and unusual of places. This week, in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, the predominately African American James A. Davis Middle School in Bessemer, Alabama held a huge cultural and ethnic diversity celebration put together by Venezuelan educator Xiamora Blasco.

Principal Albert Soles recounted his days in pre-Civil Rights Alabama, “We had to go in through back doors. We had separate bathrooms, waiting rooms, water fountains. HB 56, for many of us, brings back old and painful memories.”

Soles recounted that with the arrival of Blasco four years ago, Davis Middle school established a Spanish Club that shared art, music, culture, and history celebrating the dignity of all peoples. “With the passage of HB 56, this is something we really need.”

The Mariachi Rio Verde played a series of traditional Mexican songs and then a collection of rap, hip hop, country, and Spanish compositions to the boisterous approval of the student body.

jim rhodes

This is a powerful message of love and unity these young people have sent to the older generations of Alabama residents. I just hope we are not too blind to see it.

Jim Rhodes