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Alabama's Extended Family

Georgeanne M. Usova,
Former Senior Legislative Counsel
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November 22, 2011

“Immigrant Rights are Civil Rights” read signs in front of the White House last night, where rain and wind couldn’t stop a crowd from standing vigil to express solidarity with the people of Alabama as they fight back against H.B. 56, the draconian racial profiling law that is tearing families apart across the state and reopening the wounds of the state’s brutal civil rights struggles.

Vigils took place yesterday in D.C. and across the nation to support the launch of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice’s “One Family, One Alabama” campaign to repeal H.B. 56. Eleven members of Congress also traveled to Birmingham yesterday and held a field hearing to learn the impact of the law on families, students and businesses in the state. Later, they took part in a rally that more than 3,000 people to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the site of a 1963 bombing which killed four young African-American girls and spurred the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

H.B. 56 has opened a new chapter in the struggle for civil rights in Birmingham.

Since the “show-me-your-papers” law went into effect in September, it has left empty seats in classrooms and crops rotting in fields across Alabama, as people flee the state in fear.

In D.C., a variety of speakers from civil and immigrants’ rights organizations stressed the devastating effect that H.B. 56 has had on families, and likened it to the Jim Crow laws that caused upheaval and violence in Birmingham’s troubled past. They demanded that the White House use the full powers of the administration against the implementation of H.B. 56 by stopping the Secure Communities and 287(g) immigration enforcement programs in Alabama, and ensuring that the Department of Homeland Security does not detain or deport anyone identified under this discriminatory law.

A. Elena Lacayo, immigration field coordinator at the National Council of La Raza, reminded those gathered why H.B. 56 matters across the country —not just in Alabama — by recalling the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Karen Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), called H.B. 56 blatantly unconstitutional, and a return to the racism and bigotry of the old South.

Johnny Barnes, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, described the law as “unjust,” asked for solidarity with “our brothers and sisters in Alabama” and called on Alabama legislators to ensure that justice prevails by repealing the law.

Finally, facing the White House, the entire crowd, led by Margaret Huang, executive director of the Rights Working Group, closed the vigil by issuing a direct call to President Obama to stop collaborating with Alabama’s enforcement of H.B. 56.

To learn more about the crisis in Alabama, click here.

The vigil was hosted by Jobs with Justice, ACLU-NCA, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Rights Working Group, National Council of La Raza, National Immigration Law Center, The New York Immigration Coalition, South Asian Americans Leading Together, Asian American Justice Center, National Immigration Forum and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

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