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Thread: Living Under Alabama's New Immigration Law, HB56

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    Elite Member roslyntaberfan's Avatar
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    Default Living Under Alabama's New Immigration Law, HB56

    The grim reality of life under Alabama's brutal immigration law | World news | The Guardian


    The grim reality of life under Alabama's brutal immigration law

    Fear of detention, families torn apart – Hispanics in Alabama are trapped in a unique half-life under punishing new immigrant laws

    • Latest: police can detain suspected illegal migrants, court rules
    • In pictures: life under Alabama's immigration law

    Alabama immigration law: anyone failing to carry immigraton papers is now deemed to be committing a criminal act. Photograph: Gary Tramontina/Polaris

    Isobel Gomez's apartment on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, has the hunkered-down quality of a wartime bunker. There are boxes of bottled water, rice, beans and tortillas stacked against the living room wall – sufficient to last her family of five several days. The curtains are drawn and the lights on, even though it is early afternoon.

    For the past two weeks, this small space has been Gomez's prison cell. She has been cooped up here, shut off from natural light and almost all contact with the outside world since 28 September, the day a judge upheld the new law that has given Alabama the distinction of having the most draconian immigration powers in America.

    Gomez (the name is not her real one, at her request) used to be a gregarious person, taking her daughters to school, visiting her mother nearby, shopping every day. Now she leaves the apartment only once a week, to stock up on those boxes of essentials at the local Walmart.
    The day after the new law was upheld, Gomez saw three police cars driving around her housing complex, which is almost entirely Hispanic in occupancy. Word went around that the police asked men standing on the street to go inside their homes or face arrest. She took the mandate literally, and from that moment has barely set foot outside. She no longer drives, her car sitting unused by the kerbside. Under the new law, police have to check the immigration papers of anyone "suspicious" they stop for a routine traffic violation – a missing brake light, perhaps, or parking on the wrong spot. "If they see me they will think I'm suspicious and then they will detain me indefinitely," Gomez says. Why would the police think she was suspicious? "They will see the colour of my skin."

    Gomez's is one of thousands of Hispanic families in Alabama trapped in a sort of half-life while they wait to see what will happen in the courts to the new law, HB56. Both the US department of justice and a coalition of local groups are challenging the clampdown at the 11th circuit appeals court in Atlanta, Georgia. The court must decide whether to allow the new law to stand or to block it pending higher judgment by the US supreme court; its ruling is expected by the end of this week.

    Tough provisions

    While the judges deliberate, Alabama's uniquely tough new provisions remain in effect. In addition to the police check of "suspicious" people, anyone failing to carry immigration papers is now deemed to be committing a criminal act. Undocumented immigrants are also forbidden from entering into a transaction with the state, which has already led some town halls to demand residents produce their papers or risk losing water supply. Schools have been instructed to check the immigration status of new pupils as young as four. Even families legally entitled to be in the country are being caught. Cineo Gonzalez was shocked a few weeks ago when his six-year-old daughter came home from school carrying a printout. It gave details of HB56 and its implications, under the heading: "Frequent questions about the immigration law."

    Gonzalez is a US permanent resident, having come from Mexico more than 20 years ago. His daughter is an American citizen, having been born in Alabama. Both are entirely legal. Yet she was one of only two children in her class – both Hispanic in appearance – who were given the printout.
    Why was she singled out, Gonzalez asked the deputy head teacher. "Because we gave the printout to children we thought were not from here," came the reply.

    Cineo Gonzalez Gonzalez is a taxi driver.

    Soon after the law came into effect, he began getting calls from Hispanic families. "People started asking me for prices. How much would it cost to go to Indiana? How much to New York? Or Atlanta, or Texas, or Ohio, or North Carolina?" At about 2am one night, he was woken up by a woman who asked him to come and pick her and her family up immediately and drive them to North Carolina. He went drove to their apartment where he found the two parents, three children and a small number of bags waiting for him. "Can you hurry up, we're very scared," the woman said. "The police followed my husband on his way back from work and that's why we're leaving." It took eight hours to get to North Carolina. The children slept the whole journey; the father sat in silence; the mother cried all the way. "That was devastating," Gonzalez says. "I knew things were bad, but this really showed me something was happening. Families are being destroyed."

    'They see us as servants'

    Outside the offices of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, HICA, about 30 people – including several small children – are sitting waiting for legal advice. An overflow room has been set up at the back of the building to accommodate families who arrive throughout the day.

    In a consulting room, a case manager is drawing up a power of attorney letter for a couple who fear they could be rounded up and deported at any time. The legal document – one of hundreds taken out by parents in the state – sets out what should happen to their eight-year-old daughter should they both suddenly disappear. In this case, it gives one of the couple's friends, a US citizen, the power to make decisions for the girl on anything from medical procedures to schooling. "This is very cruel, very extreme," the mother says, asking to remain anonymous. "We have never done harm to anyone. We've only worked hard. Now they're trying to split us from our child."

    Why does she think they – the Alabama authorities – are doing this? "We ask ourselves that too. Why are they doing this? They say it's because we are taking jobs from local people, but I don't think it can be about that. It's about racism." Her husband chimes in: "They see us as servants. As people they can keep at the bottom. Not as people who want a better future for ourselves and for our children."

    Most of the 100 or so families who are now coming to HICA for help every day are doing so to have powers of attorney drawn up for their kids. Others want advice about what to do when teachers enquire about their children's status. Increasingly, people are coming in having been fired by their employers for lack of immigration papers.

    'We do the jobs nobody wants to do'

    Efren Cruz has lived in Alabama for 23 years having come here when he was 14 from Mexico. He speaks fluent English with a rich southern drawl. Since HB56 came into effect he has been sacked by four different steel and paper mills where he has worked on and off for years. Now he's jobless. But he's not taking it supinely. He laughs at the suggestion that the new law is designed to stop illegal Mexicans taking jobs away from worthy and needy local Alabamans. "We aren't taking anybody's jobs because, let's face it, they don't want to work. We do the jobs that nobody else wants to do."

    Despite the fact that he is undocumented, and thus liable to be detained under the new law, he is among a small group of protesters outside the federal court in Birmingham. His fellow demonstrators include a seven-year-old boy carrying a placard that says: "I just look illegal", and Cruz's niece Angela, a US citizen aged two, whose sign says: "They can't deport us ALL". Cruz had hoped that many more people would have joined the protest. Over the past week they have been petitioning members of their local church to attend, and about 400 promised to come along. Only about 25 turned up. "That's how scared people are," Cruz says.

    Other sporadic and tentative protests are cropping up across the state. A nearby Mexican restaurant, Gordos Market (which translates as "Fat people's market"), is closed for three days. A sign on the front door explains that it is shuttered out of "Apoya por una buena causa" – support for a good cause. Across the state this week, poultry and meat processing plants, including the giant Tyson, have been closed or put on limited production schedules because of an unofficial walkout by Hispanic workers. In the north of the state, the pungent smell of rotting tomatoes hangs in the air across huge tranches of land that has been virtually abandoned by workers who, through fear or anger, are no longer turning up to gather the harvest.

    Just how long this standoff will continue, and what happens to the thousands of families caught in limbo, will depend largely on what the 11th circuit appeals court rules, and ultimately on the final say of the US supreme court. In the meantime, though, Isobel Gomez remains trapped inside her prison cell apartment. The only thing keeping her here, she says, is her daughters, who want to stay and make a life for themselves in America as countless millions of immigrant Americans have done before them. "Every day I ask myself the question: how much longer can I survive this? How much longer can I bear sitting at home, unable to leave the house? How much longer can I stand the humiliation of knowing that I'm seen by others as a bad person, as a criminal? If it were down to me, I'd have had enough already."
    Rest in Peace my beautiful little Bonnie

    07/01/92 - 12/03/09

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    Elite Member Just Kill Me's Avatar
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    The only thing good I read in that article is that Tyson had to shut down or slow it's production. Tyson is a nasty fucking piece of shit and the only people they pay properly are their attorneys.
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    Elite Member ManxMouse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Just Kill Me View Post
    The only thing good I read in that article is that Tyson had to shut down or slow it's production. Tyson is a nasty fucking piece of shit and the only people they pay properly are their attorneys.
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    Agree about Tyson--fecal chicken hellhole.

    I don't like this law. It's poor policy, and we need a better, easier path to legal residency. But I have to admit it gets under my skin when I hear illegal immigrants talk like entitled victims. It's not a black and white (or brown and white) issue.
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    Elite Member MontanaMama's Avatar
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    Yes, it's a harsh law, but I really am tired of the the word "illegal" being dropped from the conversation. Frankly, it all has to start somewhere. In the 80's all the people here illegally were granted amnesty, so all that did was encourage millions of others to assume if the could get here, they could stay here. Enough is enough. If you have not taken a legal path to residency, you don't have any right to be here beyond a tourist visa. If you feel you need to hide out in your home, than perhaps you need to develop an exit strategy. I never even get to the question about taking jobs, it's not necessary. There is no automatic right to reside in the US. I'm trying to picture any other country on earth that would put up with this for decades and decades.
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    I agree with Montana.

    I also don't understand why parents are signing of POAs for their children? Wouldn't they take their children if they were deported?

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    Elite Member Just Kill Me's Avatar
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    I don't know how to get the video on here Few Americans take immigrants' jobs in Alabama
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    Lightbulb Boo Hoo

    Cry me a fucking river. No sympathy here, they put themselves in the position they are now in.

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    Elite Member roslyntaberfan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gossiplover View Post
    Cry me a fucking river. No sympathy here, they put themselves in the position they are now in.
    Just to clarify, you think it's ok to detain people indefinitely?

    And those who are legally entitled to be in the country should always carry proof of their legal status in case they are stopped by police? I find this terrifying. In fact, it reminds me a bit of a certain situation in Europe about 70 years ago...
    Rest in Peace my beautiful little Bonnie

    07/01/92 - 12/03/09

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    Elite Member witchcurlgirl's Avatar
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    ^Ah it only took 7 posts in the thread to get to Godwin's law. The minor difference here is that those people were actual citizens, and not breaking the law.

    I'm always curious as to how other countries deal with illegal immigrants. Do you deport? Let them go about their business without any penalty? Fine them?

    Do legal immigrants that aren't citizens have to carry some form of immigration card to show they are legally allowed to work, like our green cards?
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    Elite Member roslyntaberfan's Avatar
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    ^^ In the UK and Ireland, those who have legal work pemits just have to show them to employers once they have been offered a job and accepted. Basically, it's the same procedure as showing qualification certificates etc when you start a new job. The employer then takes a copy/notes down the permit or visa details and that's it.

    For housing contracts and bank accounts etc, it's a similar process. No-one, as far as I'm aware, has to constantly carry legal papers 24/7 that document their right to be in the country.

    I agree that immigration (legal or illegal) is a thorny issue but I just balk at the thought of immigrants having to constantly carry legal papers. It just seems to go against everything that is important in democracy.
    Rest in Peace my beautiful little Bonnie

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    Elite Member witchcurlgirl's Avatar
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    ^ Does the UK deport illegals? Or fine them or anything similar?

    We don't force all immigrants to carry papers. The US is different in the sense that each state can make it's own laws on certain things, like this law here. They don't apply to the nation as a whole. Our green cards seem to be similar to your legal work permits.

    I don't agree with forcing people to carry papers, but the US has an illegal immigration problem that is unlike any other country, just due to the sheer numbers. And while carrying papers is definitely anti-democratic, just being a democracy doesn't mean we have an open border policy.

    And yes, it is definitely a thorny issue, with some valid views on both sides of the argument.
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    Elite Member MontanaMama's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by roslyntaberfan View Post
    ^^ In the UK and Ireland, those who have legal work pemits just have to show them to employers once they have been offered a job and accepted. Basically, it's the same procedure as showing qualification certificates etc when you start a new job. The employer then takes a copy/notes down the permit or visa details and that's it.

    For housing contracts and bank accounts etc, it's a similar process. No-one, as far as I'm aware, has to constantly carry legal papers 24/7 that document their right to be in the country.

    I agree that immigration (legal or illegal) is a thorny issue but I just balk at the thought of immigrants having to constantly carry legal papers. It just seems to go against everything that is important in democracy.
    Big big big distinction between the 2. I don't think there's a single thorny (I interpret as ethical) issue about legal immigration, but both get lumped together all the time.
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    ^^Oh I know that it's just Alabama that has this kind-of law. Also, the law itself is still in the 'developmental' (for want of a better word) stages as far as I can gather, ie. it might be overturned?

    I wasn't criticising the broader Government, or the general immigration policies in the US, just some of the details of this particular policy. I can't quite understand how it is legal to force someone to carry immigration papers all the time and it really worries me.

    I totally agree though that the US has a really difficult situation with immigrants. As you've said, each state has its own law/policy; they also seem to have entirely different sets of issues as far as I can gather. I'm glad I'm not a decision-maker in that respect! My boyfriend and I would LOVE to live over in the States for a bit, we have quite a few friends out there, but it's so hard to get a visa!

    Anyway, the UK does deport people if they are here illegally. However, there are extenuating circumstances that relate to European human rights laws. For instance, if being deported to your home country would put you at serious risk or if you have a family in the UK etc, you can appeal/claim certain human rights which means you are entitled to a court hearing to decide whether or not you can be allowed to stay. There's a lot of controversy about this over here at the moment though. Hope that makes sense?
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    Elite Member roslyntaberfan's Avatar
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    Sorry, that was a response to Witchcurlgirl but I was a bit slow!
    Rest in Peace my beautiful little Bonnie

    07/01/92 - 12/03/09

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    Elite Member witchcurlgirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by roslyntaberfan View Post

    Anyway, the UK does deport people if they are here illegally. However, there are extenuating circumstances that relate to European human rights laws. For instance, if being deported to your home country would put you at serious risk or if you have a family in the UK etc, you can appeal/claim certain human rights which means you are entitled to a court hearing to decide whether or not you can be allowed to stay. There's a lot of controversy about this over here at the moment though. Hope that makes sense?
    That does make sense. It's similar to of US policy in certain regards. Thank you for answering, I've been curious but reading up on it was making things more unclear.

    When I was younger I knew loads of Irish illegals here in NY. They would come over on visas and then outstay their time. Then they couldn't go home, because leaving would make re-entry hard. NY had a large underground economy where they would work in building trades, carpentry, etc. It probably still exists.
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