Recently I went to the local grocer to purchase some chicken wings. Even on sale, five pounds of chicken wings cost around $12.99. Needless to say I have not bought chicken wings in weeks. Undoubtedly, the flight from many Hispanics in Alabama working in poultry plants contributed significantly to these skyrocketing poultry costs.
During the Jim Crow Era in Alabama, it was a felony to steal a pig, there were Black and White public facilities, and trying to gain the right to vote almost assured Blacks that they would be terrorized by the KKK. Convict leasing allowed many Black prisoners in Alabama to increase the revenue in the state significantly, around four million dollar annually through leasing prisoners to private industries through convict leasing. Paying illegal Hispanic citizens less than minimum wages assured many employers in Alabama of a cheap labor force until thousands of Hispanic citizens left this state after HB 56 was passed.
As a public school educator, I personally observed hundreds of Hispanic students flee our school district when this law was passed. Many of the Hispanic students that I teach appear to feel like they need to behave better than non-Hispanic students or they will be reported to immigration officials. It is not part of our teaching responsibilities to enforce immigration laws in Alabama. I’ve seen the motivation literally vanish from many Hispanic students who one believed that they could achieve anything in this country if they worked hard enough, and graduated from our institutions of higher education.
Yesterday, I reminded a Hispanic student that I was an advocate for them, and I was vehemently opposed to HB 56. The Hispanic student immediately stopped misbehaving in class, and he thanked me for supporting their fight to achieve the American dream through completing at least a high school diploma. One student stated,” Even if I complete a high school diploma, most of the Hispanic residents in Alabama work in motels and low wage earning jobs that most Americans refuse to do.” I stated to this student that we need to celebrate Hispanic contributions to this country like we do for African-Americans.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” One section of HB 56 requires school employees to, “check students’ immigration status, criminalizes giving an undocumented immigrant a ride, requires employers to E-verify potential employees’ status, and instructs police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant.” This alone is analogous to racial profiling, encouraging teachers to assume the role of federal immigration officials, requires local police to take on additional responsibilities as federal immigration officials, and reduces the trust many Hispanic citizens already fear about reporting being victims of crime to law enforcement officials, and adds to the high unemployment rates we already experience in this state by costing employers more money to E-verify all potential Hispanic employees.
HB 56 requires the, “Attorney General to attempt to negotiate a Memorandum of Agreement under certain conditions; to require a person to present proof of citizenship and residency before voting; to preclude any state or local government or official from refusing to assist the federal government in the enforcement of federal immigration laws; to prohibit a person not present in the United States from receiving any state or local public benefits.” Many Hispanics in Alabama have large families and they rely on food stamps to help make ends meet. This law directly affects their eligibility and takes food off the table for many Hispanic families. If you deny Hispanic families the right to gain a high school diploma and to provide food in their households, then what incentives are there for these residents to remain in Alabama?
Juan Martinez, a naturalized citizen in Alabama states, “I am afraid to call the police if my family becomes a victim of crime in this state. They may try and deport us. It will be very difficult to provide enough food for my family after this bill because we needed food stamps to make ends meet. I work hard, and obey the law, and this is how Alabama officials repay us for being a good citizen. Blacks don’t want to do the jobs that we do, and not all Mexicans are gang members and drug dealers just like not all Blacks are drug dealers and on welfare.”
In 2011, thousands of Hispanic citizens began to flee from Alabama after HB 56 was passed. During the Civil Rights Struggles in the 60’s, thousands of African-Americans migrated from the South to the North to escape the terrors of Jim Crow laws and segregation. What better time for a March on Washington to protect the rights of Hispanic families and students in Alabama, and across this country as Jim Crow laws return to the South and across this country?