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Posted Nov 22, 2011, 8:25 am
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Because Birmingham was the birthplace of the civil rights movement for African-Americans, it is only fitting that a similar movement for immigrants starts here, House Democrats said Monday.
Birmingham has “a historic significance … that changed the very character of this country,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson.
He is in Alabama this week with nine other congressional Democrats to help start a campaign to repeal the state’s immigration law, known as HB 56. Because the law is modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070, Arizona has a lot to teach Alabama, Grijalva said.
But Alabama state lawmakers said advice is not what they need from Capitol Hill lawmakers.
“If they would go back to Washington and pass immigration reform we wouldn’t have to do their job for them,” state Rep. Jim Patterson said Friday. Patterson, a Meridianville Republican, was a co-sponsor of HB 56.
His argument is similar to those made in Arizona for SB 1070 – and it’s not the only similarity between the states and their respective immigration laws.
Both laws were written by Kris Kobach, now the Kansas secretary of state. Both would let local police check a suspect’s immigration status. Both have been challenged in court by the U.S. Justice Department as an infringement on federal authority and both have had some provisions blocked by courts.
But while there are similarities, Alabama’s law goes further than Arizona’s in some cases, said Grijalva, citing reports that “children are being asked their (immigration) status in the school.”
Kobach has said that that provision was only meant to gather data on the immigration status of schoolchildren so the state could analyze the cost of educating undocumented children in public schools.
The provision that let public school officials ask students for their immigration status was put on hold by the courts, along with other provisions. Unlike in Arizona, however, courts considering the Alabama case said local law enforcement officials here could ask about a suspect’s immigration status.
The Democratic lawmakers scheduled a day of meetings on the law, including an ad hoc hearing at the Birmingham City Council where they heard from local law enforcers and school officials as well as Alabama residents affected by the law. They ended the day at the 16th Street Baptist Church, where a 1963 bombing that killed four girls and wounded 20 other people on their way to Sunday services became a key event in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
While the visiting Democrats argued that the Alabama law has overreached, its supporters said it has lived up to its purpose.
State Rep. Terri Collins, a Decatur Republican and co-sponsor of HB 56, said the law has driven so many undocumented immigrants out of the state that American citizens can fill up the jobs the immigrants are leaving behind.
“I know people who have been able to get jobs that couldn’t before,” Collins said Friday. “And that was the intention of the law.”
Republican and Democratic lawmakers do agree that Alabama agriculture has been affected by the loss of immigrant workers. But they disagree on the solution.
Grijalva said that the federal government needs to act on immigration reform that leads to a pathway to citizenship, but Patterson disagrees. He said that undocumented immigrants who want to work in the United States need to go back to their home countries and apply for a temporary work visa to enter legally if they want to work here.
“If President Obama and the Democrats were trying to help the people who are here illegally, they would get their butts down here and get them green cards so they can work,” Patterson said.
State Republicans have said they are willing to “tweak” the law in the next legislative session to clear up some misunderstandings among Alabama residents.
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But Grijalva said Alabama can still learn a lot from Arizona when it comes to enforcing state immigration laws.
“Coming from Arizona and the experiences we had with (SB) 1070 lead me to try to explain to people that there is consequences that do go along with this,” he said.
Collins said she has already seen the results.
“Overall it has had good implications for the state,” Collins said.
TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.