|March and rally in Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 17 against state’s anti-immigrant measures.|
“I’ve been here 15 years,” said Hilda Arévalo, 42, who came to the rally with her three children and her husband, a construction worker. “I don’t want to have to go back to Mexico. The whole family is here.”
Kiara Lawson, 22, a psychology major from the University of Alabama at Huntsville, was one of several members of the Youth and College Division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the rally. “I’m for freedom for everyone,” she told the Militant. “Racial profiling not only affects Latinos. It affects African-Americans as well.”
Serilo Méndez, a landscape worker, was one of some 200 people who came from the Albertville area and had participated in the one-day political strike there Oct. 12 against the law.
“We’re here for dignity, more equality, and so that people hear us,” Ana Maria, 40, from Tuscaloosa, who was holding one end of a large hand-painted banner, told the Militant. The law’s sponsors in the Alabama legislature say they aim to force undocumented immigrants to leave the state and to discourage them from settling here.
At the rally, conducted in English and Spanish, several speakers made mention of the battles for Black rights that took place in Montgomery—from the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a public bus, which sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, to the march from Selma to Montgomery for desegregation and voter registration.
The evening before the march an audience of almost 300 heard from a panel of two freedom riders and two young immigrant rights activists at a meeting at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.
Victor Palafox, a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, told the rally at the state capitol that he was inspired by those freedom riders who fought against Alabama’s segregated bus stations in the early 1960s. “Their struggle is my struggle and my struggle is their struggle,” he said.
Joselin de la Cruz, 13, told the rally that her family had gone back to Mexico two months ago because they were scared. “I was left here to follow my dream and I’m not giving up,” she said.
Other speakers included Mary Kay Henry and Eliseo Medina, international president and international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union; Richard Cohen, executive director of the Southern Poverty Law Center; and Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza. “This has been the site for the fight against racism and this is another chapter in that continuum,” said Murguía.
“The power that matters is the power of working men and women,” said José Antonio Castro, program director of the popular Spanish-language radio station La Jefa, at the rally in front the governor’s mansion. “We are never giving up. As long as there are unjust laws, we will be in the streets fighting against them.”
Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, spoke to the crowd there and took aim at Republican Gov. Robert Bentley. “We don’t have time to wait for you to regret what you did as governor,” he said.
Federal gov’t steps up attacksWhile Democratic politicians point blame at the Republican governor and the Republican-controlled legislature that passed the Alabama immigration law, the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama has stepped up attacks on immigrants at the federal level.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted nearly 2,500 immigration audits over the last year, five times more than in 2008. These “silent raids” are used to fire undocumented workers, and, along with increased checking of workers’ documents by employers, are a central weapon in the government’s attempts to intimidate immigrants and make it harder for them to earn a living.
ICE agents deported a record 396,000 immigrants in 2011 through “removals,” which subject workers to felony charges if they attempt to return to the U.S.
The agency has also succeeded in getting local cops to take on greater enforcement of federal immigration laws.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said Dec. 16 that ICE raided mobile homes and apartments in the north Alabama towns of Fort Payne and Collinsville that week.
The courts have put temporary injunctions on provisions of HB 56 that require schools to check on the immigration status of students and their parents and that bans registering mobile homes to people without citizenship or residency documents. Other provisions remain, including one that instructs police to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop.
The Obama administration is challenging the Alabama law on the basis that immigration law is the “exclusive mandate” of the federal government.
Bentley has said there may be some revisions to the law but insists it will not be repealed.
The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will review challenges to Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, which has been a model for similar laws in Alabama, Georgia and other states.
Rachele Fruit contributed to this article
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