Special to the Democrat
By John Zippert
On Monday night, November 21, 2011 there was a historic rally at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL sponsored by the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) to call for repeal of HB56, Alabama’s anti-immigration law. The theme of the rally was “One Family-One Alabama”.
A thousand people packed the church and more than two thousand viewed the proceedings on jumbo television screens outside the historic church.
The 16th Street Baptist Church was the site of many mass meetings during the Civil Rights Movement and was bombed by the Klu Klux Klan in 1963 resulting in the death of four innocent young girls attending Sunday School.
Among the many program participants were 10 members of the United States Congress, hosted by Rep. Terri Sewell, whose 7th Congressional District includes Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and many of the rural Black Belt counties.
Other members of the Congressional delegation were: Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force Chair; Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA); Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Secretary of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair; Rep. Al Green (D-TX); Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair; Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX); Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Immigration Subcommittee Ranking Democrat; Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA); and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX).
The Congresspersons also held a hearing earlier in the day at Birmingham City Hall to hear the critical impacts and hardships on Hispanic people and others caused by provisions of Alabama harsh HB56 anti-immigrant law. Sections of the law have been suspended by Federal District Courts and implementation of the entire law is on appeal at the Federal Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, Georgia.
The rally was co-chaired by State Representative Merika Coleman of District 57 in Birmingham; Monica Ramirez, Senior Staff Attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center; and Zayne Smith, Coordinator of the ACIJ. A group of people provided simultaneous translation between English and Spanish.
Among other Alabama State legislators present were: Senator Hank Sanders, Senator Vivian Figures, Senator Bill Beasley, Senator Linda Coleman, Senator Pricilla Dunn, State Representative Rod Scott. Many of these are members of the Alabama Black Legislative Caucus which voted against HB56 when it passed the legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.
Mayor William Bell of Birmingham and Council President Roderick V. Royal gave greetings and expressed support for repeal of HB56. Royal in his comments said, “We must say no to those who plan to stand in the doorway again; we must say no to those who do not want people to feed their families; we must say no to those who would deny education. African-American people will stand with our Hispanic brothers and sisters to say we will not go back, say no to Governor Bentley, say no to Scott Beason and say no to every other reincarnated George Wallace in the state!”
Congresswoman Terri Sewell welcomed the crowd and the Congressional delegation to the church and her district. She said, “We in Congress need to take a comprehensive Federal approach to immigration reform. We do not need every state to take its own policy and program. We need to stand as ‘one family and one Alabama’.”
The high point of the rally was hearing testimony from people who were directly affected by the implementation of HB56.
Mayra, a young women, testified that she had been in the U.S. for 17 years after enduring poverty conditions in Mexico. She crossed the border in Mexicali and Calexico coming into California. “I was the only woman in a group of 20 men. We spent six days in the desert, with no food and water. I was very dehydrated. I didn’t think I would make it. Several people in our group died and we had to leave them in the desert. But I was determined to make it to be able to support my mother and sisters back in Mexico.”
Mayra said she did farm work in California and finished high school and now she is in college studying for a BA in accounting. She works two jobs to support herself and send money to support her family. She said HB56 was an evil law and she would not comply with it. “Let us work and complete our educations so we can contribute to society and help other people,” she said in conclusion.
Jose Perez said he came to this country at the age of three clinging to his father’s back when they crossed the Rio Grande River in south Texas. “I felt myself slipping off his back into the water but somehow I was able to make it,” he said. The family made its way to Birmingham and for the last 13 years he has been treated as an ‘Alabamian’ but now HB56 singles him out as undocumented. He said, “ I have been in Alabama most of my life. I am undocumented and unafraid. To me HB56 stands for Hate Bill 56. The people at this rally give me hope that we will win the fight against this bad law.”
Iracema said she was a mom from Mexico who has been here for over a decade and whose two children were born in Alabama. “This law has taken away my peace of mind. It has made us, my family, to feel unsafe at every moment. We celebrate the customs of Alabama – like football – but now we are afraid. We did not come here to steal; we came to work and make a better life for our families and children. We have hopes and dream and goals just like you – do not make us strangers – we will fight hard for fair immigration policies for all.”
Steve Dubrinski, a small restaurant owner from Birmingham said that he spoke out for his Hispanic workers after the passage of HB56. He said, “After I was on Fox News and quoted in the Huffington Post, I received thousands of negative e-mails from all around the country attacking me for speaking out. HB56 is a bad law and it will hurt the business community in Alabama.”
Delores Huerta, co-founder with Ceasar Chavez of the United Farmworker Union, also spoke at the rally. She said she was honored to be part of the program at this historical place on this historic occasion. She said, “We must view the fight against HB56 in the context of the global economy. Politicians make borders not people. We didn’t cross the border – the border crossed us.
“We must not end our fight and concerns with the defeat of HB56, we must learn about and deal with the problems that created the basis of this law. The free trade policies of the United States have displaced rural people in Mexico and other places. The sale of subsidized corn to Mexico has impoverished and displaced farmers there and forced them to move to the U. S. looking for work to support their families. Walmart and big corporations have also caused displacement in Latin America. The U. S. must use our technology and resources to help people in Latin America.
“We know we are going to win this fight because we are united. We were united in the 1960’s and learned from each other. The Montgomery Bus Boycott enlightened the United Farmworkers’ Grape Boycott – Ceasar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King shared a movement spirit and legacy. Keep collecting signatures, keep marching and keep working to remove politicians who are against us.”
Many other speakers including retired Federal Judge U. W. Clemon, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Mitch Akerman of the SIEU, Hilary Shelton and Benard Simelton of the NAACP, and Congressman Luis Guitterrez of Illinois addressed the crowd to urge repeal of HB56.
For more information and to join the fight against HB56, contact: wwwACIJ.net for more information.
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