This is a cross-post from This Week in Blackness.
Visiting Alabama was something I already had in my mind. In fact, I have this whole elaborate plan on how I will teach my children about the history of being Black in America with trips across the country to cities that are historically linked to our experience. Birmingham, Ala., is one of them.
I don’t believe I can effectively convey the impact of the civil rights experience without bringing them to the place where the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth organized, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” where four little girls lost their lives with an act of domestic terrorism or the amazing leadership of women like Diane Nash and Lola Hendricks was displayed.
But I don’t have any children yet, and I am not here for a civil rights tour. Instead, I am here because the state of Alabama has enacted legislation that unjustly targets Latino families and subjects them to harassment, employer abuse and other violations of their basic human dignity.
The passage of H.B. 56 in Alabama is but one instance of anti-immigrant legislation across the country aimed at reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in the respective states. But it is arguably the harshest. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state’s new law but there are still a number of provisions that have been upheld in court, including;
- Public schools can verify the status of students and their parents, which resulted in 15 percent of latino students being absent from school out of fear, since the law was enacted.
- Law enforcement officials can verify the immigration status of anyone they “reasonable suspect” of being in the country unlawfully.
- While it is still legal to hire day laborers, all contracts between undocumented immigrants and another person are invalid, which leaves them unprotected if an employer refuses to pay them for their work.
Most Americans are immigrants, whether their ancestors immigrated here generations ago willingly or were stolen and legally smuggled across international waters, the immigrant story is part of our country’s identity. But while we like to hail the positives of the American narrative, we cannot forget that the American story also includes the bigoted history of Jim Crow laws and the ongoing discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities.
I am honored to be among the delegation of union leaders and activists brought together by the AFL-CIO to document the story of those who may be afraid of retaliation and deportation. I hope to use my voice as a descendant of those who were once subjected to harsh legal laws of prejudice in America to shed some light on this egregious law that stands in opposition to the America we were all promised.