Alabama HB 56 Public Hearing

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.

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8 Comments

  1. Yep, you are in the Deep South. Same thing happens here in Mississippi. And the Tea Baggers (intended)are thick and all over the Mississippi Capitol–mainly retired white people who have the time to be in every corner of the state building.

  2. Thanks for taking a stand and getting your voice on public record. I grew up on the GA-AL border, and I know how tough it can be in AL. Keep fighting the good fight.

  3. Thank you very much for speaking today and for sharing some of what went on.

    Another attendee commented today: “It was terrible being there, though good to see the opposition. The Chairman never called [two speakers]. They asked him why and he said they weren’t on the list he was reading from. Funny, there was only one list.”

    So much for democracy.

    The anger displayed by speakers who favor the bill is almost as troubling as their reliance on myth and bad data. I worry about vigilantism and, even more, further deterioration of governance if elected officials themselves are catering to what feels like mob rule. Is it 1963 again?

    Two years ago, but for two police officers stepping forward, Senator Beason appeared to have been willing to let a room full of Klan members, Minute Men and nativists heckle a speaker who, following an hour’s worth of ranters, said “I want to talk about some of the contributions of immigrants.” The cries and catcalls were immediate. I had never felt palpable hatred in a public meeting before. The police officers stationed at the front of the room began to move toward the audience, then Senator Beason quickly stepped in front of the police and said, “Y’all, let her talk. She’ll only hurt her cause.” So much for an honest hearing.

  4. Thank you, Fred ~ for witnessing for people who are not able to defend themselves… this is very noble work, and we are indeed grateful to you for speaking up publicly; your words reflect the thoughts of many of us around the nation!

  5. Reverend- thank you for speaking out and standing up when it counts the most. Unfortunately, there’s another point that may be problematic and in direct violation of federal law- the issue of domestic violence shelter for undocumented immigrants. The Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) explicitly offers asylum to spouses of either gender and family members of any relation (children, parents, etc) who are victims of violence in the home or at the hands of a partner/family member. There is a specific “U” visa that is issued to these people and they are protected from deportation or other immigration laws while they file for additional protections. They are also allowed to work in order to provide for children while separated from the abuser. This is federal law. Any override to this would be very much illegal.

  6. I applaud you Reverened for standing up for an issue that as you wil now if passed will have far greater negative impact on Alabama than positive. It boggles my mind how some lawmakers seem to write new bills without looking at the big picture. I’m talking about the short term and long term looking at real facts talking to people in the communities not just the people that agree with the bill but people that are strongly opposed to it and find out the true facts. I am strongly opposed to the bill due to it’s lack of real facts. I have heard some argue that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from others. From what I have seen majority are working jobs that from my experience are jobs that had many problems in the past finding people that wanted to work in there Industries. The business owners I have talked to have voiced strong disappointment for what they say could be the start of extreme hardship for them. One business owner told me the problems he faced when he only had one Restaurant he stated that he had very hard time to hire employees for his restaurant and the employees he did hire did not want to work more than a small amount of hours due to being disqualified for government and state programs. He stated that he would schedule his employees for 30 – 35 hours and they would quit. He stated that for someone who would think of a bill like this has not talked to the industries that it will effect and looked first hand the massive economic impact it will have on communities. Not only the Economic point of View but the plan and simple the Racist aspect of the bill. I truly hope that our lawmakers will look At the real facts and then make a decision that would be beneficial for everyone in Alabama we have an opportunity to do it right and set a good example for other states that are dealing with the same issues and the importance of getting it right by looking at the true facts.

  7. What a great post. Good that to see someone is figthing for a good cause.

  8. Thank you for speaking the truth.

    I wish to talk to you in person. I also wanna get involved in being a voice in protecting the rights that God has given us all regardless of race.

    I also wanna protect my fellow American citizens and residents rights. This law violates the rights as citizens and laws of equality.

    This law states that I can take my dog in a car ride. But if I take my mom or brothers in a car that I go to jail. How is this right?

    I wanna help with this please contact me.

    contact information removed to protect privacy.


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