I have just returned from my first foray into Alabama politics at the statehouse where a public hearing on HB 56, Alabama’s combined version of several laws passed in Arizona regarding immigration. Many of the provisions are word for word from Arizona and thus if you hated Arizona’s SB 1070, then you will hate Alabama’s.
The first Wednesday of the month is the usual day when my Unitarian Universalist ministers from Alabama and the Florida panhandle gather in Montgomery for a collegial meeting. My Florida colleagues were unable to come to Montgomery today, so I suggested that we meet at the statehouse and attend this public hearing. I was going to prepare a statement and having my colleagues there was indeed a comforting presence.
I have not done a statement at a public hearing in several years, the last time being when I lived in Connecticut and so I was anticipating a similar procedure where one needs to sign up well in advance of the meeting in order to get on the speakers list. This really was not a concern I needed to worry about. I got there early. So did another person who it turns out had been on several emails that I received from Unitarian Universalists in the Birmingham area. When the doors opened for the meeting I became the first person to sign up to speak, my new acquaintance, third.
State Rep. Mickie Hammon (Yes my last name minus the d) is the chair and chief sponsor of this bill. He gave a few introductory remarks including that this bill is already being amended and therefore much of what we are responding to could no longer be valid. He then called on me to speak.
Here is the text that I delivered.
My name is Fred L Hammond, I am a resident of Northport. I am also the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa.
Last night, Governor Bentley stated that your role now that the election is over is to represent all of Alabama; this bill does not represent 4% of our people in this state. This bill causes you to not live up to the role set by our Governor.
Where-ever a similar bill to HB 56, has been passed, be it in Prince William County in Virginia or in Arizona the result has been the destruction of whole neighborhoods and local economies. And while these bills in these other locations also claimed to not use racial profiling, the lives of authorized citizens were repeatedly interrupted by unwarranted stops by police based on “reasonable suspicion.” These locations became hostile environments for American citizens who also happened to have brown skin or spoke with a particular accent. We must not allow this to happen again in Alabama.
Nor does this bill serve the well being of our municipalities who will be mandated to enforce a law with no consideration of what the economic cost to those municipalities will be. This body of legislators has not done its homework on what the direct and indirect cost will be to Alabama. Since the state will not be raising taxes to fund the additional work load being requested, municipalities and counties will have to raise their own taxes. In Prince William County where this bill was first piloted in this nation, the county had to raise its taxes by 33% in order to be in compliance with the law. And that still was not enough to enable full compliance by the local police. This will happen here in Alabama as well and will cause further collapse of this state’s economy as the poor and middle class fall under its heavy financial burden.
Another result of similar legislation elsewhere was soccer moms were going to prison while murderers and rapists remained on the street. The courts were mandated to place a higher priority on an immigrant being found guilty of trespassing or transporting an unauthorized citizen to church while the seeking of true justice for the victims of violent crimes were placed into limbo. This court mandate is in HB 56 as well. There is already a two year waiting period in Montgomery courts for cases to be heard. This bill will have dire consequences and unforeseen costs to the well being of Alabama.
This bill would potentially criminalize with a felony workers for shelters who are trying to protect their clients from the domestic violence of their spouses. If the client is an unauthorized citizen, then the worker is in violation of this bill for concealing and transporting an unauthorized citizen. He or she could have their car impounded, charged with smuggling a human being, and charged with concealing or hiding an unauthorized citizen. The employee could be convicted with two Class C felonies simply for doing their job.
This legislation troubles me as a person of faith on many levels. Our faith calls us to love mercifully, to act with justice, and to walk humbly with our God. It is what Christians, Jews, Muslims and many other faith traditions are also called to do in their faith. This bill prevents what good people of faith are called to do and therefore must not be passed. Thank you.
The next speaker was a proponent of the bill. He immediately launched into an attack wondering what planet I lived on. His body posture was angry and he shouted from the podium at the evils of illegal immigrants.
Then my new acquaintance spoke. She calmly shared some stories about her work in the Hispanic community. She pointed out the sections of the bill that would inadvertently target them. She provided some facts regarding immigrants in the state.
The next speaker was a former Minuteman from the southwest. He also yelled and screamed about his first hand knowledge of what these illegals do to Americans. I think I am beginning to see a pattern. And sure enough those who were for this bill were angry, emotional, and offered no facts to support their stance. Those who were against this bill or might have been in favor of the concept of the bill but against certain sections of the bill were calm, reasoned in their speech.
Because I had gone first, those who were vehemently for this legislation would reference my statement and attack it or would glare at me as they referenced it. Here are two examples of comments that were made. “I hope this committee is not buying these buckets of compassion.” “Yes, Christians are called to love mercifully, that is why we have missionaries to go into their countries to fix them there [italics mine] so that they do not have to come here.” During this speakers direct reference to my testimony, I caught Rep. Hammon staring at me from the chair’s bench. I do not know what was going on in his mind but he was startled when he realized I caught him.
In all there were about 10 speakers who were against this legislation and six who were for this legislation. At the end of the speakers, Rep. Hammon spoke again. He stated that it costs Alabama $200 million a year to educate unauthorized children and provide emergency medical care to unauthorized citizens in the state so while there will be municipality costs to his attrition through enforcement bill it will be outweighed by the savings. This figure is totally fictional.
First, public schools are mandated by the federal government to provide a quality education to children K-12 irrespective of citizen status. Therefore, we simply do not know how many undocumented children there are in Alabama’s schools as it is data not taken. [Watch out this will be coming.] Second, hospitals also do not know how many of their patients are undocumented and receiving treatment. [Again, watch out Alabama this too may be coming down the pike. These two unknown factors are currently before the Arizona legislation in direct opposition to federal law.] Therefore, since we do not know how many students or how many patients, there is no way to know what the cost is to educate undocumented people or medically treat undocumented people in Alabama.
But as I discovered in listening to today’s testimony bonafide facts are dismissed and raw emotional fear is valued. I have a feeling that I am going to become well acquainted with the Statehouse as this issue moves forward.