Called “the toughest immigration law on the books in any American state” by the New York Daily News, Alabama’s House Bill 56 has managed to keep a relatively low profile since its passage on June 2nd, 2011, despite the fact that its effects throughout the state have been widespread. Though lengthy and complex, the most hotly debated section of the legislation is its call to make a valid birth certificate part of the enrollment process for K-12 education and to further collect proof of citizenship from already enrolled students. This move has left as many vacancies in public schools as it has in Alabama’s fields, as workers and families flee the state for fear of deportation, or simply in response to the resultant increased racial profiling.
Though the media attention to HB56 has been sporadic, the attention of one grassroots organization has not wavered in the last five months since the bill’s passage: DreamActivist.org, an alliance composed of six core individuals committed to the cause of immigration reform with a specific concentration on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, has for the last month been steadily planning a rally against the components of Alabama’s new bill. This Tuesday, those plans culminated in Montgomery in a full-scale protest.
Regardless of context, his words have been translated and quoted enough to make his position on the issue well-known. Further, he has promised to make the DREAM Act and immigration reform a key part of his campaign platform over the next year. Whether Obama’s actions will be enough to cancel out people’s deeply-running hurt from the record number of deportations over his presidency thus far, many of them of youth with no criminal record, remains to be seen.
Members of Congress, too, are actively demonstrating further support for the DREAMers and their opposition to Alabama’s bill by scheduling their own campaign to deal with its effects. Eleven Democratic congress members, including Silvestre Reyes of Texas and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, plan to stand in solidarity in November 21st in front of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. This church, appropriately, is the same one at which the 1963 racial bombing occurred that resulted in the deaths of four young girls. The congress members’ decision to meet at this significant site, then, marks not only their unity against racial hatred, but serves to designate DreamActivist.org, DREAMers, President Obama, and the congress members themselves as integral parts of the civil rights’ movement of the twenty-first century: the fight for immigrants’ rights, legal or illegal.
To the relief of many, official legal complaints have been filed against HB56 to the Civil Rights Division, from which a decision is still pending. The U.S. Justice Department has also taken action to challenge the law. In the meantime, though, officials are still stopping Latinos on the basis of appearance alone, and children continue to be absent from school.
It is the illegality of denying education to schoolchildren, whether in the country legally or illegally, around which many arguments center, a stance cemented by the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v Doe. Though technically HB56 does not directly deny Alabama’s children access to the school system, instead claiming that the data being collected is for purely analytical purposes, for most, the line between collection and deportation is far too fine. Since the bill’s passage, thousands have poured out of the state for fear of harassment, racial profiling, and deportation. The subsequent devastating effects that this mass emigration has had on the state’s economy and commerce has caused even more people to protest the bill than under ordinary circumstances.
Encouraging people to be “undocumented and unafraid,” his efforts result in rallies like the one held in Montgomery this Tuesday. With the movement behind him growing constantly, there is little doubt that his courageous future actions, and the actions of DreamActivist.org, President Obama, and his fellow DREAMers, will snowball into a movement that will leave both immigrants and the immigration system of the United States completely transformed.