25 JULY 2011 - ALLISON HIGHT
Jose Antonio Vargas was sent to the United States at the age of twelve to live with his grandparents in California. He became a journalist and gained wide renown for his work discussing the relationship between politics and the internet, as well as his coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. He recently revealed that his immigration was illegal and that he lives undocumented. He now risks deportation.
Alabama’s House Bill 56 would, among other components, require schoolchildren in kindergarten through high school to prove their own legal residency before being allowed education. If they cannot, they would be forced to flee, or they, too, would risk deportation.
When we’re targeting our Pulitzer Prize winners and our children, something is wrong.
Gaining even more media attention, though, is Georgia’s House Bill 87, entitled the “Georgia Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.” Modeled after Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, the bill was signed into law on May 13th and went into effect on July 1st. As in Arizona, citizens of Georgia are protesting that the new law incites racial profiling by allowing law enforcement to check any person’s documents based on often arbitrary doubt of their legality. True to the people’s suspicions, Georgia resident Martin Altamirano has been stopped several times in the last month alone to check that he was carrying a valid driver’s license, even though he is a legal citizen.
HB 87 also increases the penalties for harboring undocumented immigrants, transporting them – with no exemption for ambulances or public transportation employees – or possessing a job with false documents. In some cases, these actions would elicit a felony. Although a lawsuit was filed and the state taken to court over the bill, only the most outrageous sections of the legislation were nullified, leaving most of the bill intact.
On June 28th, days before HB 87 went into effect, hundreds of undocumented youth and supporters poured into the state to stage a mass protest. Six were arrested, including three sixteen year olds. These youth have already faced increased immigration laws, racial profiling, and December’s defeat of the 2009 DREAM Act, which only failed the Senate by a handful of votes. Now they are forced to deal with one more instance of hatred in a bill that is projected to have dire consequences not only for immigrants themselves, but the state of Georgia as a whole. As immigrants make up over twelve percent of the state’s population, the economic loss from HB 87 could be well into the billions, and job loss in the hundreds of thousands. To demonstrate the extreme economic sway immigrants hold over the state, a statewide protest was encouraged on July 1st, the day the bill went into effect, in which participants would neither go to work nor perpetuate the state’s commerce in any way.
To further capture the state’s attention, also on July 1st, Altamirano and his friend Salbador Zamora went on a fast of only water with honey and lemon until HB 87 is repealed. They say that they are ready to die if need be. Four days ago, they were joined by Pastor Jeff Jones, who agrees with the men’s cause and is thrilled with the support they are receiving from the community. Thus far, though, the state shows no sign of relenting.
While the courage of these individuals is more than admirable, it should be needless. Altamirano and Zamora should not have to die to make Georgia aware that racial profiling and overzealous law enforcement is thoughtless, unnecessary, and simply wrong. The voices of immigrants, legal or illegal, should not have to be raised in a shout of protest to be heard. Yet that is the situation in which Georgia, Arizona, and many other states find themselves today.