Alabama's anti-immigrant law, HB 56, has threatened people of color regardless of their legal status, and continues to damage the state's economy and reputation.
In a press conference yesterday, key civil and workers rights activists announced a new strategy to combat the hated legislation.
It all started when six leading U.S. labor and human rights organizations got together last month and sent letters to three foreign-based car manufacturers with prominent operations in Alabama - Honda, Hyundai, and Daimler AG. The letters called on the companies to convince Alabama lawmakers to repeal HB 56.
Hyundai has already responded and agreed to a meeting, date and place not yet disclosed.
The organizations behind both that letter and yesterday's press conference are the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the Service Employees International Union, the United Auto Workers, and Alabama's own Southern Poverty Law Center.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference, said he hopes pressure from the auto makers will convince state lawmakers that HB 56 is bad news for everyone.
Henderson called the draconian law "an ill-conceived effort to terrorize undocumented citizens."
"Many proponents have called for [the law] to simply be revised," he said. "But there's no fix for HB 56. The only option is for the legislature to approve a complete repeal of this obnoxious law."
The leaders describe the collaboration of civil rights and labor groups with automakers as part of an effort to unite everyone who has a stake in Alabama's economy in opposition to the anti-immigrant legislation.
"We must honor all workers," said Henderson, "no matter where they come from. We all share common interests like stability and respect for human rights."
The negative economic effects of the law have already been felt statewide: Farmers have reported that they no longer have enough workers in the fields since the law went into effect and much of the Latino population has fled the state. The University of Alabama estimates that there has been an exodus of some 40,000 people since HB 56 was passed.
Those who have stayed have had to endure prejudice.
As they discovered, wealth doesn't shield even a corporate executive from a foreign-based auto company - even when that company has a large base of operations in the U.S. In two separate incidents, police stopped a German executive from Mercedes-Benz, as well as a Japanese Honda executive.
Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, said it doesn't end there. Since HB 56 went into effect, the SPLC's hotline has received over 5,000 distraught calls: families reporting that their water has been cut off; domestic violence victims who were told if they complained they would be reported to immigration authorities; lawyers who were told they had to turn in their own undocumented clients; and Latino workers who were denied wages.
HB 56, said Cohen, "is a human rights disaster." Rather than serving as any kind of positive response to immigration issues, he said it has created "a climate of fear."
In addition to working with the automakers the civil rights and labor leaders said at the press conference that they are seeking out new allies in the broader business community. .
Those moves, they said, are only a part of what is planned. They also said they intend to devote substantial resources to bring people out into the streets, particularly next month when the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery are commemorated.
It was clear at the press conference that the labor and civil rights groups involved understand how the law effects not only their own groups but also the groups represented by the other leaders present.
Bob King, president of the UAW, decried, for example, how the law targets Latinos, "who come to our shores for a better life, only to be caught in the crosshairs of discrimination."
Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the NCLR, on the other hand, declared that, "now more than ever, Alabama's working class must urge business leaders to speak out against HB 56. This is a travesty of justice that has caused untold damage to the state's economy. In the face of challenges like these, we the people have the ability and the right to exercise our political and economic strength."
Photo: People gather at the Alabama Capitol to rally against the problematic HB56 law. Lloyd Gallman/AP