Revolution Online, October 27, 2011

It feels like the early days of Nazi Germany

The Alabama Immigration Law Goes Into Effect

A new law aimed at driving immigrants out of Alabama or forcing them into hiding from state and city authorities went into effect in early October, upheld in part by two federal court decisions. The dramatic and horrible effects of this began right away:

Gonzalez is a taxi driver. Soon after the law went into effect, he began getting calls from Hispanic families. "People started asking me for prices. How much would it cost to go to Indiana? How much to New York? Or Atlanta, or Texas, or Ohio, or North Carolina?" At about 2 a.m. one night, he was woken up by a woman who asked him to come and pick her and her family up immediately and drive them to North Carolina. At the apartment where he picks them up he finds two parents, three children, and a small number of bags waiting for him. "Can you hurry up, we're very scared," the woman said. "The police followed my husband on his way back from work and that's why we're leaving." It took eight hours to get to North Carolina. The children slept the whole journey; the father sat in silence; the mother cried all the way.

A hundred families a day visit the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama. Many are parents who have come to get legal papers that will give guardianship of their children to a relative or close friend in case they are picked up and deported. In many cases, while the parents are undocumented, the children are U.S. citizens.

There is a sign posted outside the public water company office in Allgood, Alabama: "Attention to all water customers, to be compliant with new laws concerning immigration you must have an Alabama driver's license or you may lose water service."

Isobel has barely left her apartment on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, since September 28 when the law was upheld by the District Court. She is cooped up, shut off from natural light and almost all contact with the outside world. There are boxes of bottled water, rice, beans, and tortillas stacked against the living room wall—sufficient to last her family of five several days. The curtains are drawn and the lights on, even though it is early afternoon. She leaves the apartment only once a week, to stock up on those boxes of essentials at the local Wal-Mart. The day after the new law was upheld, Isobel saw three police cars driving around her housing complex, which is almost entirely Hispanic. Word went around that the police asked men standing on the street to go inside their homes or face arrest. From that moment she has barely set foot outside. She no longer drives. Under the new law, police have to check the immigration papers of anyone "suspicious" they stop for a routine traffic violation—a missing brake light, perhaps, or parking on the wrong spot. "If they see me they will think I'm suspicious and then they will detain me indefinitely," Isobel says.

(These stories are taken from "The grim reality of life under Alabama's brutal immigration law," Ed Pilkington, Guardian (UK), October 14, 2011.)

One day the law goes into effect and you are no longer a person. No contract you sign will be upheld in court, so how can you rent a home? Any contact with the police or any governmental authority requires proof that you are here legally, and if you don't have that paper, it could mean you are immediately and indefinitely detained. Frightened and fearful, your take your family and whatever you can carry and hurriedly move out of the state, leaving in the middle of the night, less likely to be noticed. "We have to move. We have to leave everything. We can't take anything because I'm afraid they can stop us and say why are you moving?" ("Latino Students Withdraw From Alabama Schools After Immigration Law Goes Into Effect," Olivia Katrandjian, ABC News, October 1, 2011) Other families are torn apart as parents take young children and move back to Mexico or Central America while leaving their older children with U.S. citizenship, believing their children will have a better life here.

This is Alabama in 2011. It feels like the early days of Nazi Germany.

The Alabama law, HB 56, called the "Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act," is part of a campaign of cold, vicious, relentless repression against immigrants that took a leap in Arizona in 2010 with SB 1070, has gained momentum with similar laws in Utah, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and is now at its sadistic worst in Alabama.

While a few of the most cruel sections of the law were enjoined by the courts, the heart of it remains intact. The U.S. District Court in Alabama and 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of the law passed in Alabama earlier this year.

The bill was signed into law June 9, 2011 and was set to go into effect on September 1. Church leaders, civil rights organizations, and the federal government filed a challenge in U.S. District Court. Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn halted the implementation of the law for a month, until September 28, in order to have time to issue a ruling. On September 28, she enjoined several sections of the law—the sections that made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to solicit work; made it a crime to harbor, help, or transport undocumented immigrants; and that prevented undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges or universities.

The remaining sections of the law, including the sections that required schools to determine the immigration status of "suspect children," and that required law enforcement to check immigration status of all people they stop and to hold people in jail until they determine the immigration status of these individuals were allowed to go into effect even though it was clear that there would be an appeal.

The federal government appealed the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal on October 12, and on October 14 the Circuit Court issued its ruling which prevented the enforcement of two more sections of the law: the sections requiring public schools to determine the immigration status of its students and the section making it a crime not to have registered as an alien with the government. But the law as it stands requires the police and other law enforcement to check the immigration status of all individuals who they "reasonably suspect" are undocumented. If a person is arrested for driving without a driver's license, the police can hold the person until they determine the immigration status; if found to be undocumented, the person will be turned over to immigration authorities. The law bars Alabama courts from enforcing contracts made with someone who is undocumented—a loan, a sales agreement, an employment contract, a rental agreement—none of those will be enforced by an Alabama court if you are undocumented. The law makes it a crime for an undocumented individual to enter into a "business transaction" with the State of Alabama or any subdivision of the state. It is this section of the law that allows the public water company to demand to see a driver's license as proof that a person is here legally before turning on their water.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) plays the role of aiding entities—from Congress, to states, to individuals—in crafting fascistic and racist anti-immigrant laws and shepherding them through the courts. It helped write the Alabama law and calls it a model. The law includes extreme measures aimed at driving Latinos out of Alabama—the law's supporters call it "self-deportation." And learning from the problems Arizona's SB 1070 had in the federal court, Alabama's law was carefully written to include explicit language upholding federal immigration laws and stating that it will not allow any state official to violate those federal laws, the better to withstand court challenges. "If the trend of the past five years persists, the Alabama model will be a touchstone for other states in the 2012 legislative sessions, and also serve as a influential guide for nationwide reform by the Congress," said Trista Chaney, an IRLI staff attorney who has worked extensively on anti-immigrant legislation appearing in states throughout the U.S. "This is why they call the states laboratories of citizen democracy," Chaney added. ("Alabama Passes the Most Advanced State Immigration Law in U.S. History,"

The fascist anti-immigrant forces are enforcing this ethnic cleansing state by state, sometimes town by town, passing laws and ordinances that make it impossible for immigrants to work, rent homes, get a driver's license, speak their language, send their kids to school, get medical care. In the first quarter of 2011, 30 states introduced immigration-related bills modeled on Arizona's SB 1070. At the same time, these fascistic forces have worked to create the poisonous atmosphere that demonizes immigrants as drug smugglers, gunrunners and narco-gang members, and scapegoats them for the economic hardships facing a large swath of U.S. society today.

Intended Consequences

The results of this law have created disruptions and tensions among other sections of the population as well. Farmers in Alabama have been used to finding immigrants who because of their undocumented status are willing to do the grueling, back-breaking labor of harvesting tomatoes and other crops for horribly unfair wages. But now that cheap labor is hard to come by. Lana Boatwright, a tomato grower said she and her husband had used the same crews for more than a decade to harvest tomatoes, but only eight of the 48 workers they needed showed up after the law took effect. "My husband and I take them to the grocery store at night and shop for them because they are afraid they will be arrested," she said. Chad Smith, another tomato grower, said his family would normally have 12 trucks working the fields, but only had the workers for three. He estimated his family could lose up to $150,000 this season because of a lack of help to pick the crop. ("Immigration law author tells farmers: No changes," David Martin, Associated Press October 4, 2011) Farmers are being driven out of business and some talk about not planting next season if they cannot be assured labor will be available for harvest. The same kinds of disruptions are taking place in other industries dependent on immigrant labor.

Commentators talk about these economic losses as unintended consequences of this law. But the people who wrote and fought to pass HB 56 are very clear. They knew these disruptions would come. Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, former IRLI attorney, and the behind-the-scenes author of Alabama HB 56, Arizona's SB 1070, and other anti-immigrant bills across the U.S., says the law is working as intended, "We're displacing the illegal workers. That may cause short-term pain for some, but the markets will adjust....  It may be they have a season with some losses, and it may be that they have to increase their wages. But you've got something like 200,000 unemployed people in Alabama and many of them are going to find jobs as a result of this." In response to the suggestion to hire the unemployed, tomato farmer Jamie Boatwright said, "Since this law went in to effect, I've had a total of 11 people that were Americans come and ask for work. A total of one of those actually came back the next day... that person picked four boxes of tomatoes, walked out of the field, and said 'I'm done.'" Other supporters of the bill propose using prison labor in place of undocumented immigrants.

The sponsors of this fascistic law know they are creating economic hardships among sections of people who are part of their base. And even while they offer up "solutions" like the unemployed and prison labor as the new underclass of workers, they have a more strategic objective and are determined to push through whatever obstacles may get in the way. These die-hard racists are being fomented and financed by a section of the ruling class that envisions a return to the white-supremacist, male-supremacist social contract as the glue holding America together. They are incensed that people from other parts of the world are turning the U.S. into a multi-cultural, multi-lingual society; they see it as degrading and as a dangerous centrifugal force that is pulling America apart. In their view, if it takes establishing a fascist regime to restore those traditional values and to return America to its former greatness, then so be it.

What is the answer the Obama administration and the Democrats offer—these so-called allies of the Latino people? According to Maria Hinojosa, Frontline reporter for the October 2011 documentary "Lost in Detention," Obama has overseen the deportation of more immigrants than any other president in history—it will soon hit one million. Obama promised that his "Secure Communities" program would focus on deporting "criminal aliens" who committed violent felonies. But the only "crime" committed by the vast majority of the 226,000 people being deported under Secure Communities this year, is having come to the U.S. in search of survival for themselves and their families. And why? Because, as Bob Avakian so succinctly put it, "Because you [the U.S. imperialists] have fucked up the rest of the world even worse than what you have done in this country. You have made it impossible for many people to live in their own countries as part of gaining your riches and power." The U.S. immigration laws that are being broken by "illegal immigrants" are completely unjust and illegitimate.

During the battle against SB 1070 Revolution described the dangerous trajectory we have been on.

Obama and the Democrats too want "order" above all else, but most of all they do not want to call the people who are horrified by what is happening into the streets to stand up to and oppose these fascists. The damage this repeated compromise and conciliation with fascism has caused, over several decades, is incalculable. It has for far too long encouraged and influenced progressive people to accommodate to a dynamic where, as Bob Avakian has pointed out, "[Y]esterday's outrage becomes today's 'compromise position' and tomorrow's limits of what can be imagined," and it has contributed to the disorientation among progressive people in the face of this growing, fascist movement. Remaining on that path, the future can only mean watching while things get worse and worse, while the masses of immigrants are put continually in a more locked down and super-exploited position, with no way out. ("Stop the System's Fascist Attacks on Immigrants," Revolution #208, July 25, 2010)

The savage, relentless exploitation of millions of immigrants, documented and undocumented, is essential to the functioning of the system of capitalism-imperialism in this country and to its dominant standing in the world and how immigration to the U.S. has served the U.S. as well as Mexico and the countries of Central America. Not only does the money sent home by immigrants work to alleviate the tremendous economic suffering, but the so-called promise of a better life in the U.S. becomes a "way out" of unbearable conditions for millions. But this poses intractable problems for the U.S. ruling class. The 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country are a potential source of instability and "disloyalty." All sections of the ruling class see this contradiction and agree that this section of the population must be brought under control, but they differ on how exactly to do it. Neither fascist laws nor Obama's hundreds of thousands of deportations offer a "better" choice for immigrants.

The Need for More Resistance!

In Alabama some of the masses targeted in the sights of this law have refused to obey the self-deportation order. On October 3, a week after the law went into effect, five mothers—all of them white U.S. citizens—demonstrated against HB 56 in front of the federal district court in Birmingham. Their partners, the fathers of their children, are undocumented and could be torn from their families at any moment. ("HB56: American Kids Pay The Price," Maribel Hastings, Huffington Post, October 6, 2011)

On October 12, hundreds of people in northeast Alabama stayed home from work, school, and shopping to protest the law and to demonstrate the critical role Latino workers play in the economy. The boycott, called by Spanish language radio and television, was strongest in the part of the state where the poultry industry is concentrated. At least six poultry plants closed or scaled back operations. The Wayne Farms poultry plant, which normally employs 850 people, was idle and many businesses that catered to Latinos closed in support. ("Alabama Latinos Protest New Law on Immigration," Jay Reeves, Associated Press, 10/12/11)

On October 16 in the little town of Athens, in northern Alabama, a courageous march of 200 took place to protest the law. Tamitha Villarreal and her boyfriend, Armando, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, decided they would stay and fight to overturn HB 56 rather than leave as many of Armando's friends did. Tamitha posted the protest march on her Facebook page. At the appointed time more than 200 people—legal and illegal immigrants from Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala—massed in the parking lot of a supermarket which was closed down because so many of its immigrant customers had left. People came with homemade signs and "fire in their bellies" as the news story described it. They marched through the streets of Athens for three hours, shattering the post-church quiet with shouts of "No more HB 56!" (From "Hispanic Limestone County Residents Protest Against Alabama's New Immigration Law," Steve Doyle, Huntsville Times, October 16, 2011)

Standing with them, church leaders, civil rights organizations, teachers and students at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and other campuses have protested HB 56, and continue to speak out in opposition to the law. Scott Douglas III, a Black minister and Executive Director of the Greater Birmingham Ministries, issued this challenge to the youth, "If you missed the 60s, guess what, now is your time. Now you can make the same kind of contribution that young people made in the 60s. And that is to be out front in saying 'no' to this system that will allow people to be treated worse than animals and denying basic human rights. And all in the name of instilling fear in people."

To all people who hunger for a different and better world—immigrants and native born, documented and undocumented, young and old: What is now urgently needed, on a scale much wider than now exists, is a determined resistance to these fascist laws and the stepped up detentions and deportations, aimed at creating a world where all human beings are treated with respect and dignity.

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