'Is This Alabama?' Documentary Pushes For HB 56 Immigration Law Repeal

WASHINGTON -- Not all Alabamians support the state's HB 56 immigration law, explicitly designed to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state. In a new series of videos, Director Chris Weitz, the man behind the film "A Better Life," documents some of the reasons why.

In the four videos -- a collaboration between the Center for American Progress, America's Voice and Define American, all organizations that support comprehensive immigration reform -- men and women in Alabama talk about how HB 56 has impacted them since it was signed into law last summer.

"The entire problem is the fact that we have not sat down at each others' table," an Alabama farmer, who is not identified by name, told journalist and Define American Founder Jose Antonio Vargas in the video "Not the Kind of Alabama I Want." The farmer talked about Paco, an undocumented man who works at his farm, and the friendship they share. "I tell his grandkids that they're mi nietos, they're like my grandchildren," the farmer says in the video.

Weitz is a somewhat unexpected carrier of the immigration reform torch; he directed "About a Boy," and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and produced "American Pie." He became involved in immigration issues when he read a script for "A Better Life," which tells the story of an undocumented day-laborer.

Weitz told The Huffington Post that he became "more political" as he made the movie, especially after he visited an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility during the process and met with a detainee through a pane of glass. The star of "A Better Life," Demian Bichir, was nominated this year for a "Best Actor" Oscar.

When the Center for American Progress approached Weitz about creating a short video about HB 56, he signed on immediately, and worked with Vargas, who traveled to Alabama to conduct interviews.

The videos are part of an effort to repeal the law, which allows police to request immigration documents from those they suspect to be undocumented and criminalizes a large range of business interactions with undocumented immigrants. HB 56, which proponents claim will prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining benefits or jobs from citizens, is widely considered the toughest immigration law in the country.

Critics say the law has damaged the state's economy, leaving acres of unpicked crops rotting in Alabama's fields after farm workers fled the state. Others say the law is a return to Alabama's ugly history of racial segregation. Both issues are discussed in the four-video series.

In another video, called "Two Faces of Alabama", Weitz contrasts a school teacher who worries about the implications of the law for her students and a drunken man who the director says represents the state's "remnants of Jim Crow" in the state.

State education officials estimated that over 2,000 Latino students were absent from schools on the first day the new law came into affect. The law requires that all schools verify the immigration status of children enrolling for the first time.


Weitz said Wednesday that the videos show Alabama residents are not what HB 56 paints them to be.

"[I learned about] the decency of many, many Alabamians, who have a deep sense of hospitality and compassion, and how those voices aren't being heard by the legislature," he told a crowd Wednesday at the Center for American Progress, where the videos were premiered.

The next step is for these groups to work together to repeal the law, which Democratic lawmakers in Alabama are attempting to do, Vargas said at the event.

"We are kind of at an all-hands-on-deck moment on this issue, where all of us have to play a role," he said.