De Leon: Alabama’s Immigration Law – Denying the American Dream

(Photo: lndhslf72/flickr)

(Photo: lndhslf72/flickr)

Alabama’s draconian immigration law, HB56, was to have taken effect today. But U.S. Federal Judge Sharon L. Blackburn delayed the law’s implementation Monday “to adequately address the numerous challenges.” Her injunction remains in effect until September 29 “or until the court enters its ruling, whichever comes first.”

Blackburn had heard arguments for and against the law last week, a result of numerous lawsuits collectively launched by the Justice Department, national civil rights groups, and church leaders seeking to block the new law and decided that she needed more time to consider the case. And well she should.

This is Alabama’s more sinister version of Arizona’s reactionary SB 1070. The New York Times Editors have called it “The Nation’s Cruelest Immigration Law,” and it brings us back to Jim Crow days when African Americans were treated “separate but equal.”  Jim Crow laws legitimized the segregation of races in public spaces such as schools and transportation.

HB56, if allowed to stand, would segregate Latinos and other immigrants, with or without documents. The law would require Alabama public school teachers and administrators to check students’ immigration status, criminalize anyone giving a ride or renting to an unauthorized immigrant, require employers to use E-Verify to check potential employees’ status, and instruct law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they stop if they suspect the person of being undocumented.

We should lament the fact that 48 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that we are still marginalizing people, that we are “still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

Our nation’s history has shown our tendency during hard times to scapegoat and segregate the immigrant and “foreign” native – the Chinese, the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese – through exclusionary laws or literally though internment camps.

Now it’s the Latino immigrant community’s turn to suffer our proclivity to demonize the newcomer and the “alien.”

When will we learn from our history? America is a country made great and strong by immigrants who, at first arrival, have all been treated like pariahs but nonetheless are welcomed to do back-breaking and menial work harvesting our crops, building our infrastructure, producing our goods, and caring for our children and households.

When will we learn to look to the future and realize that immigrants keep America strong and vibrant?

It is time to release ourselves from “the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination” and share the dream with all those, who like our forebears, have come to work, improve their lot and help build the nation.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.