Alabama Immigration Law's Opponents Seek Allies In Business Sector

WASHINGTON -- Opponents of Alabama's contested immigration law are asking local manufacturers of Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai cars to help them push for a total repeal of the law in the state's Republican-controlled legislature.

"We're not asking the automakers to engage in a high-profile public campaign," Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a Monday conference call. "We're asking them to use their influence; we're asking them to their persuasive voice and their impact on the economy to encourage legislators to do the right thing."

A group of advocacy organizations -- including the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the United Auto Workers and the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center -- requested meetings with the Alabama executives of Daimler AG, Honda and Hyundai to discuss the social and financial impact that the law has on Alabama and the image of companies doing business in the state. (Daimler AG manufactures Mercedes-Benz cars.)

So far only Hyundai has responded to the letters, which were mailed Jan. 19. The leaders of the campaign to repeal the law are negotiating when and where a meeting would take place.

There's a reason that opponents of the Alabama immigration law, H.B. 56, are hoping to ally with car manufacturers: Foreign executives from Honda and Mercedes-Benz were arrested last year because of the law.

Those arrests led to calls for Alabama to remain friendly to foreign businesses such as car manufacturers, but not before some mocking from outside the state. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a newspaper in Missouri, wrote an open letter to Mecedes-Benz after one arrest, calling Alabama the "Show us your papers" state. "Here's an idea: You should move your SUV plant to Missouri," the editors wrote.

Opponents of H.B. 56 have been working to block the law, considered the most restrictive immigration law in the nation, since it was passed along party lines last June.

The measure allows workers of government agencies to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they come in contact with -- a practice that has led to some undocumented immigrants to remove their children from school. The law also prohibits Alabama's government from conducting transactions such as license renewals with a person lacking proper documentation.

Eliseo Medina, international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said during the call that he thinks automakers will be responsive to statistics showing the growing importance of the Hispanic consumers as potential buyers of their products. "What about consumer confidence? Medina said. "H.B. 56 is a PR disaster in the Latino community."

"Latinos are not going to be drawn to brands that manufactured in a state steeped once again in racism and discrimination that targets them," he added.

The coalition plans to mail starting on Tuesday another round of letters to 50 foreign companies that have also invested in the state.

Republicans in Alabama have said they are open to modifications of H.B. 56, but that they will not repeal it. Gov. Robert Bentley released a statement in December, saying he and state legislators "will not compromise our ability to make sure that everyone who lives and works in our state does so legally."

Alabama Republicans plan to introduce several amendments to the law when the legislature reconvenes Tuesday.