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2011-10-20

Harsh Immigration Laws Threaten "Humanitarian Crisis" in Alabama, Prompting Latinos to Fight Back

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The state of Alabama became the latest hotspot in the national immigration debate when it enacted a new law, HB 56, that requires police to arrest anyone they suspect of being in the country without legal status. It also prevents courts from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants and allows public schools to determine the immigration status of enrolled students. Last week, a federal appeals court blocked enforcement of parts of the law, but not before thousands of Latinos fled the state. A number of businesses in Alabama were forced to close their doors after Latinos across the state staged walk-outs in protest. We speak to Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, a lead plaintiff in one of the lawsuits challenging the Alabama law. "We are in a state of humanitarian crisis here," Rubio said. "I can’t even begin to explain to you the level of fear and chaos that HB 56 has created in the community... We really think at the core this is aimed at the Latino community, not the entire immigrant community." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the debate over immigrant rights. The state of Alabama became the latest flashpoint in the debate when it enacted a new law, HB 56, that requires police to arrest anyone they suspect of being in the country without legal status. It also prevents courts from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants and allows public schools to determine the immigration status of enrolled students.

Last week, a federal appeals court blocked enforcement of parts of the law, but not before thousands of Latinos fled the state. School districts across Alabama have reported a large number of Latino students have stopped attending classes in recent weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: Last Wednesday, a number of plants and other businesses in Alabama were forced to close their doors after Latinos across the state staged walk-outs in protest of the state’s anti-immigrant law.

In a minute, we’re going to look at how this fits into the Obama administration’s handling of immigration enforcement at the federal level. But first, to Birmingham, Alabama. We’re joined by Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, a member of the steering committee of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice. Her group is the lead plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against the Alabama law.

Isabel, welcome to Democracy Now!

ISABEL RUBIO: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Parents keeping their kids home from school, laborers fleeing the state—explain what is happening and what the law actually is saying.

ISABEL RUBIO: We are in a state of humanitarian crisis here, really, economically, civil rights and humanitarian crisis. I can’t even begin to explain to you the level of fear and chaos that HB 56 has created in the community. And you’re right. We were relieved that the 11th Circuit did enjoin the provision that put school officials in the position of enforcing federal immigration law, but, you know, we have had hundreds of students who have been pulled out of school, whose families have moved. And the thing that’s critical, while all children have a right to an education, we are seeing U.S. citizen children who are being pulled out of schools here in Alabama because of this law.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And also, the circuit court did uphold the portion, the "show me your papers" portion, of the Alabama law, which would obviously mean that this is going—this whole issue of "show me your papers" is going to go to the Supreme Court, as we’re getting different rulings in different circuit federal courts.

ISABEL RUBIO: You’re exactly right. That provision was enjoined by the 11th Circuit, but we still have a provision in place that talks about reasonable suspicion. So, while someone might be stopped for a routine traffic stop — and I say "routine" — and, you know, at that point, they—the officer would possibly have reasonable suspicion, maybe based on an accent, maybe based on the color of someone’s skin, to ask someone about their immigration status, which could ultimately lead to a person being detained and put into deportation proceedings.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the movement against Governor Bentley’s law, the significance of these walkouts, of the kids leaving school? What’s happening throughout Alabama now?

ISABEL RUBIO: Well, I’ll tell you. What’s happening here in Alabama really hearkens back to what happened in the 1960s, almost 50 years ago, in terms of the groundswell of the community, both those who are affected by this law and allies who are coming forward. As you mentioned, last Wednesday, we did have parents who kept kids home from school. We had businesses that closed. And when I say businesses, I’m not talking about just mom-and-pop store. I’m talking about chicken plants who weren’t able to open because workers didn’t show up for work.

And we are having allies. As you mentioned, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, that is a broad, statewide coalition that’s made up of folks from the faith community. We have got strong partners with the African-American community there, through the NAACP. And we are really seeing folks who are saying in Alabama, "Look, we can’t go back to the Alabama of 50 years ago. We are—we are not like that anymore. And we have got to stand up, and we have got to speak out." So it’s really, on one hand, very heartening to see people who finally are being pushed into action because of the egregious nature of this law.

AMY GOODMAN: We just—

ISABEL RUBIO: And we will continue—I’m sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds, but how large is the Latino population in Alabama? And why did—why was this law passed in Alabama?

ISABEL RUBIO: Well, Alabama has a history of being fearful of folks who are from the outside. And we really think at the core this is aimed at the Latino community, not the entire immigrant community. But, you know, we are 2,000 strong in Alabama, and we will continue to fight for what’s right, and we will bring allies along with us. Thank you so much for the opportunity to be with you guys today to continue to tell our story to the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, thanks so much for being with us, as we turn now to the federal level and just an update.

Again, the latest news coming out of Libya, major—all the major networks, The Guardian newspaper, as well, says that Muammar Gaddafi was killed in a NATO strike. The convoy in which Gaddafi was thought to be traveling was hit by a NATO air strike at 6:00 a.m. British time. Two NATO aircraft bombed the vehicle as they fled Sirte. Neither were British planes, though two Tornado ground-attack aircraft were on surveillance and reconnaissance missions at the time. Still no confirmation that Gaddafi was in the convoy, but that is what’s being reported in Libya. And some of the reports are saying his body will appear in Misurata. Again, this is all at this point unconfirmed. There has been a graphic photo that has been released that is believed to be Muammar Gaddafi, which is a bloodied face of Muammar Gaddafi. As we turn now to federal immigration issues.

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