Coalition steps up fight against Alabama anti-immigrant law

A coalition of union, civil rights and anti-poverty organizations says it is stepping up efforts to undo the harshest provisions of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, which the groups see as racist and anti-Latino.

In a phone conference today, top officials of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the United Auto Workers union, and the Southern Poverty Law Center said they will pursue litigation, a formal labor complaint, and increased efforts at public awareness.

They will, in effect, tell Alabama’s governor and legislature, “If we can’t appeal to your humanity, then we will appeal to your pocketbooks,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The groups are targeting Alabama’s HB 658, which contains draconian measures aimed at undocumented immigrants and which, opponents say, would endanger the state’s entire Latino community. The bill is supposed to be milder than an earlier bill that it replaced, HB 56, but the new bill is actually even harsher. It even includes a new “Scarlet Letter” provision, which calls for names and photographs of suspected undocumented immigrants to be published in local newspapers.

Cindy Estrada, vice president of the United Auto Workers, said there is no public benefit to the provision. “What is the point of publishing the names of a person who is believed but not proven to be undocumented, but not convicted of a crime? The purpose of that is … to encourage vigilantism,” she said, adding that it, like most of the rest of the law, is simply aimed at “bullying and intimidating” the Latino community overall.

Also, the law targets undocumented parents of child citizens. This drew particular ire from Estrada, herself a mother, who said she “cannot imagine what it would be like for [the children] to wonder if I as a parent was going to be home for them at the end of every day … Children should never, ever be put in this position.”

Indeed, the bill has roots in political extremism. Mary Bauer, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s legal director, noted that the push for the law is led by the state’s “most extreme legislator [Republican state Sen. Scott Beason], who said the [immigration] problem could be solved by ’emptying the clip.'”

As part of the newly intensified fightback, the coalition will employ three new tactics. The organizations will conduct a thorough review of all litigation options that could possibly slow down implementation of the bill. The coalition will also pursue a complaint to the International Labor Organization, which could possibly have some influence via U.S. treaty obligations.

The most direct and punishing actions, however, are aimed at the state’s economy, specifically at the tourism and automotive industries.

A public education campaign aimed at tourists will have two prongs. Individuals will get the message that they should “choose another site. Alabama is not a state at this time that is worthy of your contributions and support,” said Henderson.  The same message will be aimed at businesses and organizations that might want to hold conferences and events in Alabama.

The UAW’s Estrada announced a “bannering and information campaign against Hyundai beginning today at dealerships across the country.” Hyundai is one of several automakers that have plants in Alabama. The coalition had tried to get these companies to speak out, even sending representatives to Korea to discuss the issue with Hyundai’s board of directors. Hyundai, after promising to review the information, did nothing.

“By its silence, it endorses a law that hurts its large and loyal Latino base,” Estrada said.

Henderson, Estrada, and Bauer emphasized repeatedly that the actions were not a boycott, and that they did not wish to do harm to the economy of the state. They argued that most people in Alabama do not support the anti-immigrant rules, and noted that the victims of the law live there too. Instead, they said, the campaign is to be seen as a demonstration of the power of the movement to overturn discriminatory laws and to get the state’s leadership to rethink its position.

Bauer said the law has been terrible for Alabamans, Latino or not. It has caused such “chaos across Alabama” that neighboring Mississippi scrapped proposed similar laws.

Answering a question posed by the People’s World, Estrada said, regarding working with both white and Latino UAW members in Alabama, “My experience is that people understand that these are laws that just divide us, rather than focus on the economy, and bring good jobs to the U.S. People are starting to see that our fight isn’t with each other, but how to come together … so everyone can get the American dream no matter what color or gender you are.”

Photo: Immigration law protesters outside the senate chamber at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, May 16. Seven demonstrators protesting HB 56, Alabama’s toughest-in-the-nation immigration law, were arrested after they tried to block entry to chambers. Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser/AP