Under cold windy clouds, about 100 people from across the state gathered on the steps of the Alabama State House to protest HB 56, Alabama’s copy cat version of several Arizona’s anti-immigration bills rolled into one. I was pleased to see other Unitarian Universalist Ministers as well as some other clergy from other denominations in the crowd. There were six people scheduled to speak after welcoming remarks by Zayne Smith of Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.
Isabel Rubio, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama
Jason Childs, Center for Progress in Alabama
Sam Brooke, Southern Poverty Law Center
Jared Shepherd, Alabama American Civil Liberties Union
Fred Hammond, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa
Shay Farley, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice
After Isabel Rubio spoke, the Black Democratic Caucus surprised us by coming out to speak against the bill. It was wonderful to have them speak eloquently about this legislation and fully understand what this bill is really about-an attack on the human rights of a specific population. Their speaking did change the time frame for the remaining speakers, who were quickly editing down their talking points in order to abide with the permit regulations of being done by 2 PM. Below is the full text of my speech which was translated into Spanish on the spot by one of two wonderful translators. I have italicized the portion of my talk that I read at this event. It was well received with a spontaneous chant at the end of my talk.
My name is Fred L Hammond, I am the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa.
HB 56 goes against the very foundations of our faiths which teach us to love our neighbor as our selves. Where-ever a similar bill to HB 56 has been passed 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 Alabama to reverse its progress against racism; instead we must continue to create the Alabama where all people, regardless of race or creed, are free to pursue the American Dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
There has been no consideration of what the economic cost to the municipalities mandated to not only enforce this law but to provide the funds to do so. Representative Hammon stated that it costs $200 million a year to educate the undocumented children in our schools. He believes the savings to the state would far outweigh the cost of implementation. Representative Hammon, you have been given a fictitious number. There is no data, no evidence as to how many undocumented children we have in the state of Alabama. We do not even know how many undocumented citizens live in Alabama. This bill assumes that the 4 % of our population that are immigrants are all undocumented. There is no understanding what this bill will cost nor what it might potentially save us financially.
Here is what we do know. Alabama’s 7,000 foreign students contributed $129 million to the state economy through tuition, fees, and living expenses in 2009. Immigrants’ purchasing power was $4.9 Billion in 2009. This bill’s intention is to make this state hostile to immigrants through “attrition by enforcement.” This bill will open the doors to harassment of foreign students and authorized immigrants who will then leave the state and take their money with them. So Representative Hammon how much are we going to save to outweigh this kind of revenue loss to the state? Is this bill really worth $4.9 Billion in lost revenue?
HB 56 assumes that Alabama’s economic woes are caused by a growing immigration population. This is scapegoating our irrational fears on the backs of innocent people. Alabama’s economic woes are caused by an unfair tax structure that allows corporations to pay nothing in taxes to Alabama. If corporations paid their fair share of income taxes then our state economy would be healthier. If the cost associated with similar bills passed elsewhere is any predictor, Alabama’s economy will further collapse under the heavy financial burden foisted onto the poor and the middle class. This bill only compounds the problems of the recession and does nothing to help rebuild Alabama’s economy. It will lead to more irrational bills, drain the economy, and redirect law enforcers and courts away from addressing the violent crimes in the state.
And finally, Representative Hammon stated if a priest is found to have an undocumented citizen in his sanctuary then the priest would be arrested under this bill. This is the kind of legislation that criminalized ministers and priests in Germany for harboring Jews. People of faith are called to love mercifully, to act with justice, and to walk humbly with our God. If this bill makes me a criminal for living my faith, then so be it. I will stand on the side of love rather than allow neighbor to turn against neighbor under an unjust law. Vaya con Dios. Si, se puede.