BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - How many undocumented immigrants in Alabama would meet the criteria set by new federal regulations to be "low priorities" for deportation if they were to be detained?
Every story we hear, every family drama, seems to describe cases that would fall under these regulations, which establish that immigration agents should prioritize the deportation of those who pose a real threat to public safety, not mothers and fathers who came to this country to devote themselves to work in various industries and create a better future for their families.
Despite this, Alabama law HB 56--even after a court ordered the state to temporarily stop enforcing parts of the law--keeps the immigrant community here in a state of anxiety. Even with the supposed prioritization of deportations, the community confronts the constant fear of being detained and deported under a law that the Obama Administration's own Department of Justice is trying to get ruled unconstitutional. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the House Judiciary Committee yesterday that her Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is not collaborating with Alabama's authorities to implement the law, and is instead cooperating with the Department of Justice in its lawsuit to block it. How ironic.
Showing only their hands--the same hands that labor in jobs that are so important to the state's economy and their families' survival, the same hands that now caress the children they fear they'll have to leave behind--these videos show several immigrants' stories of how HB 56 has turned their lives upside down.
As we stand on the threshold of an election year and rumors of immigration reform bills have begun to swirl around Congress yet again, the only thing immigrants in Alabama and around the country are hoping for is to stop being exploited by politicians of every ideology and agenda. Their suffering is genuine. Their need is immediate. Their wait has been long.
As one undocumented father expressed his wish for politicians: "that they see what's going on here in Alabama, that they listen to us now in our time of need...That they don't forget that we're human beings like they are."
THE HANDS SPEAK
The undocumented couple: "We go out on the street and people keep looking at us--we don't know if it's out of hate or pity," says an undocumented couple from Costa Rica. They've lived in Alabama for 15 years and have three children: the youngest, 13 years old, was born here, and the other two arrived when they were babies. They are now 17 and 16 years old respectively, both DREAMers whose plans for college have been paralyzed.
Their undocumented children: "It isolates me from my friends because I don't have the same experiences that they do. They have different liberties...I have to be more grown up than they do and be aware of the real world...and I have to grow up a little bit faster than they do." He wants to study psychology, and his brother wants to earn an athletic scholarship to play soccer. Their dreams are on hold.
The undocumented mother and daughter: "I don't understand the situation...the racism (we see) isn't against immigrants, it's against Hispanics," says another mother, also from Costa Rica and a seven-year resident of Alabama. Her older daughter, 18 years old, is undocumented; her younger son is a United States citizen. Among the ironies she recounts: she tried to pay taxes on the mobile home she owns, but was not allowed to because of her lack of documentation.
"To me, this is hate, it's not a law": Rosa María, mother of two U.S. citizen daughters.
The mixed immigration status family: "What we want is for them to leave us in peace and quiet to work. We're not doing any harm to anyone." With 22 years in Alabama and three U.S. citizen children, this family, a mirror of so many others in Alabama, lives under the constant specter of separation.
Ana, a hotel maid: "There used to be twelve of us (immigrant workers) and there are only four of us left. Here at work they ask us, 'Are you all going to leave, are you going to another state?' Some people say 'maybe, it all depends,' but I don't want to leave my job. And we pray to God to see what can be done for us."
The undocumented fifth grader that lives in constant fear: "I keep thinking that if we get left alone we won't know what to do, we won't have anyone around to support us."
The undocumented young man that stayed behind: "At worst, our crime is that we're working," says this young man whose family has returned to Mexico. "I stayed because I believe in the American Dream--that what is going on right now is just a bad dream and when I wake up, it will be the dream that we all came here to look for."
The undocumented father that fears separation from his US born wife and daughter: "The problem (isn't only) in Alabama, the problem is national."
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