SDS plans HB 56 protest

William Evans

Students for a Democratic Society, a left-wing student organization, will protest legislation passed by the state House of Representatives that targets illegal immigrants at noon on Sept. 28 at the Ferguson Promenade.

“House Bill 56 is a hateful and racist law,” said Laura Langley, president of SDS, in an emailed statement. “If this law goes into effect, our state will be catapulted back 50 years into the decades of Jim Crow laws. I’m protesting the Anti-Immigration Law because I believe in Martin Luther King Jr.’s words written from the Birmingham jail: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”

House Bill 56, signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley, contains punitive measures that would revoke the business licenses of employers that knowingly hire illegal immigrants and would also make it a felony for illegal immigrants to register to vote.

Also, local law enforcement officers are allowed to request proof of immigration status during stops for traffic violations if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal immigrant.

“HB 56 undoubtedly targets people with brown skin,” Langley said. “So if you think that it’s unethical for police officers to arrest and detain someone just because they are Latino, even if that person is a legal citizen of this country but happened to have left their driver’s license at home one day, then you should not support this law.”

Rep. John Merrill, R-Tuscaloosa, who co-sponsored HB 56, said the bill is not racist but merely enforces federal immigration law.

“The purpose of this bill and the reason I supported it is because it requires everybody to be treated the same,” he said. “Anybody who wants to come to Alabama, we want them to come, but they must come the right way. There are prescribed methods and they must be followed.

“If the federal government was doing its job, we wouldn’t have to have the immigration bill. If you want to come to work, you must have a work visa. If you want to become a citizen, then there are procedures that must be followed.”

The procedures in HB 56 crack down on a number of services that could be rendered to illegal immigrants.

The bill requires public schools to determine the immigration status of all students and to publish figures on the number of immigrants, legal and illegal, that are enrolled and the costs associated with educating them. The bill also makes it illegal to rent housing to or transport illegal immigrants.

Cliff Sims, president of College Republicans, said in an emailed statement that citizens should not have to pay for local benefits and services that illegal immigrants can enjoy without paying for them in the form of taxes.

The federal government’s failure to enforce immigration law provides a justification for the state of Alabama to take action, he said.

“The federal government has failed our country when it comes to immigration,” he said. “We need a better system by which people can enter our country legally and become productive members of our society. But Alabama cannot be expected to sit idly by and allow the Federal Justice Department to keep us from enforcing our laws.”

Joseph Smith, a constitutional law professor in the political science department, said in an emailed statement that HB 56 has been challenged in court by the U.S. Department of Justice because the Constitution, under the Supremacy Clause, gives the power to regulate immigration to the federal government.

“From the point of view of the national government, it is as if Alabama wanted to have its own foreign policy,” he said. “Police suspicion is likely to be based on things like the ethnicity, skin color or accent of the person being stopped.  If this is how it works in practice, then people will be selected for questioning on the basis of factors that are illegitimate.”

The large popular uprising against the bill, including Hispanic interest groups, religious leaders and demonstrators, indicate the bill does not represent the majority of Alabamians, Langley said.

“The state of Alabama does not look like the white male politicians who sit in Montgomery, creating and signing horrific bills like HB 56 without much regard to how it will actually affect their constituents,” she said. “The state of Alabama looks like the 5-year-old child who has no idea what the words ‘illegal’ or ‘undocumented’ mean, but who will no longer be able to attend her local public elementary school because her family is fearful of HB 56’s mandate that the school be made aware of their child’s immigration status at enrollment.”