Unintended Consequences: Alabama Families, Farmers and Lawmakers Struggle with New Immigration Law

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Nora Skelly, LIRS Policy Associate, advocates for the protection of refugees, migrants in detention and families affected by our broken immigration system. Nora has worked with Spanish-speaking communities both in the United States and abroad on a number of social justice causes.

Every morning, my walk to work takes me past the Newseum, which displays the front page of newspapers from all 50 states. I often take a moment to see what is important to communities in places like Kentucky, Nevada and South Dakota, far removed from my inside-the-beltway world, to remind myself of why LIRS’s work of speaking truth to power is so important. These headlines show the diverse perspective of issues both Washington lawmakers and ordinary Americans deal with every day: the struggling American economy, budget cuts, upcoming elections, and disaster response. One such example of a national dilemma is immigration, specifically the way states have chosen to take immigration enforcement into their own hands in recent years.

Alabama’s above-the-fold-coverage often includes updates on the state’s new strict immigration law since the passage of HB 56 in June. Earlier this week, the Birmingham News reported that key Republican senators admitted that mistakes had been made and are compiling a list of changes that should be made to make the law less cumbersome. Particularly, Senators Dial (R-Lineville) and Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) pointed out that requirements for proof of legal residence for any government transaction, inquiring after the immigration status of school-age children and criminalizing charitable aid to undocumented immigrants went too far.

Though Dial and Waggoner are most concerned with the inconveniences the bill creates for businesses and public institutions, their objections demonstrate that the enforcement of our immigration laws affect all components of our communities and no one is immune from the problem of our broken immigration system. A recent story by MSNBC interviewed farmers, an immigrant family and even Governor Bentley (R-AL) also demonstrated this interconnectedness.

The Sanchez family, who owns a popular bakery, undertook a perilous journey to come to the United States when their daughter was six years old.  They got their start baking bread all night and delivering it door-to-door, but will lose their business license as a result of HB 56. In another segment, farmer Ellen Jenkins spoke about how the Mexican workers employed after her husband’s death have “practically become [her] family.” Now that her employees have left the state out of fear, the tomatoes she grows are rotting on the vine because she cannot find workers. Finally, Governor Bentley acknowledged the difficulties businesses are facing as a result of the law, but believes they will eventually be resolved as a result of “doing things the right way.”

Though I have never been to Alabama, I know that laws that cause children to live in fear, displace families from their homes and drive economic activity away from where it is most needed are far from “the right way.” From where I work every day in the shadow of the Capitol to advocate with migrants and refugees, I am hopeful that more and more Americans will see this type of news coverage and learn how misguided laws like HB 56 can have unintended, harmful consequences for us all.

Get involved by following LIRS’s Facebook page or subscribing to the Stand for Welcome campaign to learn more about how you can stand against punitive state immigration laws and in favor of laws that are just, humane and welcoming.

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