HB 56: How the People of Alabama Fought Back Against the Worst Anti-Immigrant Law in the Country

The following is the second installment that covers the experiences and realities happening in Alabama after the passage of HB 56, the worst anti-immigrant law in the country. This is the second installment out of three. For the first post that deals on how Alabama first passed its anti-immigrant law, go here.

As time passed, efforts were made to directly organize and empower the immigrant communities here in Alabama. With the help of allies, undocumented immigrants in the state of Alabama slowly began taking ownership of our own future and of our reality. Actions throughout Alabama would draw dozens, then hundreds, and then thousands, all in direct opposition to HB 56.

In June, over 2,000 people turned out for a march in Birmingham, flooding the city in a sea of white shirts; in July, hundreds came out to Montgomery and marched to the Capitol; and during the week leading up to August 24, the date for the first hearing on HB 56, undocumented youth from the Birmingham area organized a three-day vigil outside of the Hugo L. Black Courthouse. However, it was after September, when Judge Sharon Blackburn made the controversial decision to allow HB 56 to pass the courthouse relatively unscathed, that communities in Alabama begin to organize and empower themselves on a higher level.

On the day before Judge Blackburn made her decision, I remember lying in bed, trying to digest the reality that would come the next day, attempting to grasp that the state and the country that I considered my own was turning its back on others, as well as myself. Growing up, I always wondered how it felt to be able to go out and do something as simple as drive without having to worry about whether the police would stop you. When I was younger, I remember asking my mother how it felt to be free to do as one wished, to be able to truly pursue happiness, and to be able to have a time where such a sentiment could be felt. I had not felt it in over a decade.

After September, when Judge Blackburn allowed the majority of HB 56 to go through, our movement truly took flight. Allies and undocumented immigrants intertwined, eliminating a need for distinction of one another. We rallied, organized, mobilized, and grew together not as a coalition but as a family, which led to the motto behind our campaign; One family, One Alabama. Una Familia, Una Alabama. Our movement here in Alabama has taken us across the state and across barriers we never thought we'd cross. The most beautiful scenes are that of people in motion, the scene that encapsulates the desires and yearning of a people for justice, a scene which paints a picture with a flooding of colors and emotions that fuel our struggle, and the ability to juxtapose events and recognize the same faces, as well as the rapid arrival of new ones.

The people of Alabama not only have to fight back against the law; we also have to fight back against a legislature who doesn't listen to its own people. At the public hearings for any piece of legislation related to immigration, the overwhelming voice has called for a repeal of the law. HB 56 was not even written by an Alabamian; it was written by Kris Kobach, a man who can't be bothered to keep his anti-immigrant fervor to his own state and must atone his legislative shortcomings by carpetbagging his way to Alabama.

In Alabama, many wanted to paint us as a frightened community needing some form of vicarious redemption. We have suffered, but we have not lost, nor will we ever allow ourselves to be defeated. In Fall, I remember driving home with an old community leader, having to hear the despair and agony in his voice as he asked me why all of this was happening; why was this law meant to deny us our humanity; and why he, an undocumented immigrant, felt as if he had no humanity left. Earlier this year, I had to deal with my neighbor choosing to take her American-born children with her to Mexico because her husband was deported. My experiences are not rare, and if given the chance, I am sure many others would share the pain we have gone through.

Here in Alabama, we have been dealt the hardest hand in the nation, and yet we continue to fight. We don't pray for easier lives; we pray to be stronger people, and that is what we are and will continue to be. These laws won't move us.

At the moment, we are involved in a battle to halt the passage of HB 658, a piece of legislation that is even worse than the original HB 56, a piece of legislation that further sucks the state of Alabama to the confines of its masochistic relationship with policies that hurt Alabamians. Alabama has an opportunity to right a wrong and ridding ourselves of HB 56 is our only solution.