UU Alabama Ministers send Gov. Bentley Message on HB56

Late last night, Alabama sent substitute bill HB56 to Governor Bentley to be signed. This morning, the following letter signed by the Alabama Ministers was sent to Governor Bentley urging him to veto this bill.

3 June 2011

State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130

Dear Governor Bentley:

When the Legislature presents its substitute bill for HB56, I hope you will veto it. There are many reasons why this bill needs to be vetoed this year. But the major reason is it is simply not good for Alabama.

Governor Bentley, you recently sent back to the Legislature the proposed budget because there were bills that have not yet been passed that would place the budget out of balance and therefore make the budget unconstitutional. This bill will also make the budget unconstitutional in Alabama. Sections 22 and 23 require an increase in the state budget but because this bill falls under Amendment 621, a cost analysis is not needed to be established. But there is a cost that will be added to the state budget; and since Alabama is struggling to balance the budget in these dire economic times, this unknown cost will place the budget out of balance.

The act of criminalizing a whole group of people has costs associated to it that the state legislature has refused to seriously acknowledge. The arguments against these increased costs are based on assumed cost savings that are speculative and not based on real numbers of undocumented immigrants. We do not know how many immigrants are undocumented in the state but the Legislature is assuming that all Spanish speaking citizens are undocumented. This bill, therefore, targets anyone whose first language is Spanish and who looks like they come from south of the border.

Despite all arguments that racial profiling will not be permitted, human nature will dictate the occurrence of racial profiling. Our law enforcement personnel will not be able to be adequately trained to determine reasonable suspicion when language and ethnicity are part of the mix. But even if they were adequately trained, this bill also requires schools to determine if students were born in this country. Federal law requires that all children be given a public education regardless of national origin. This bill increases racial profiling in the schools.

This bill states the presumption that undocumented immigrants are causing economic hardship and an increase in lawlessness. There is no proof that this is the case. The legislature has come up with spurious anecdotes but nothing is found in the documentation. There is documentation that immigrants (undocumented and documented) have increased the state’s revenue in taxes and increased economic development in their respective communities. In fact, the state has had a decrease in violent crimes over the last decade even while the immigrant population has increased. This presumption is therefore a biased statement.

Governor, I urge you to veto this bill when it comes across your desk. It has components that in Arizona have cost that state millions of dollars in litigation. It has components that are blatantly prejudiced and demonize a hard-working segment of our population. This is not a job creation bill unless Alabama is seeking to increase the private for-profit prison industry in the state by criminalizing a whole population. Is this the Alabama you want to create as a legacy of your administration?

Sincerely,

Rev. Fred L Hammond, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Rev. Diana Allende, Minister, Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Rev. Lone Jensen Broussard, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham

Rev. Paul Britner, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Montgomery

Rev. Alice Syltie, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville

Text of presentation at SB 256 Public Hearing

Senate Bill 256 section two opens with this statement, “The state of Alabama finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state.” I would like to know on what evidence does the state of Alabama make this assumption.

Here are the facts, The Congressional Budget Office in 2007 determined, “Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants—both legal and unauthorized—exceed the cost of the services they use.”  This does not indicate economic hardship.   The law advocacy group, Alabama Appleseed, found data that stated that immigrants in Alabama account for 4.9 Billion dollars in state revenue in 2009.  This also does not indicate economic hardship.

So what about lawlessness.  Since 1980 both violent and property crime rates have dropped nationwide according to the US Census Bureau.  But let’s look more closely at Alabama with data from the FBI. In 1980, Murder rates were at 13.2 per 100,000 and in 2009, 6.9 per 100,000.  Rape, robbery, aggravated assault remained roughly the same between 1980 and 2009.

What about the numbers of immigrants nationwide—in 1980 1-16 people was an immigrant, in 1990, 1-13 and in 2007 1-8 were immigrants. This data is from Center for Immigration Studies.   In Alabama, we know that according to the US census, the immigration population in 1990 was 1.1%.  It grew to 2% in 2000 and to 4% in 2010.  So if immigrants were indeed causing an increase in lawlessness, then their increasing numbers might be found to correlate with an increasing number of crimes but this is not the case.  What does show a possible correlation to crime rates is the increase of the poverty rate in Alabama from 14.6% in 2000 and 16.6% in 2010.

The State of Alabama has not proven its case that immigrants, documented or undocumented are causing either economic hardship or increased lawlessness.  What the state of Alabama has proved by this bill is that it is scapegoating the economic woes of Alabama on the backs of immigrants instead of addressing the real cause of its problems which is a corrupt tax code that deliberately privileges corporations and the wealthy and over burdens the working class and poor.

The result of this will be economic suicide.  Alabama may succeed to drive out our immigrant population because of the racial profiling and harassment that will ensue resulting in all of our businesses losing the 4.9 Billion dollars in revenue this group of hard working, decent people contribute annually.

You were elected to create jobs so that Alabama can thrive but this hardhearted, and dare I say, arrogant bill will instead destroy Alabama.  Do not go down this immoral and unjust path, Alabama’s people deserve better from you. You are better than this.

 

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.

Rosa Coal Mine in Alabama

The city of Birmingham was built seemingly overnight on the iron and steel industry.  It was a boom town for employment.  Part of the reason for this rapid growth early on was the presence of iron ore, coal, and limestone all within close proximity.  These are essential in the making of steel.  Birmingham was called the “The Pittsburgh of the South.” 

Steel production is no longer the prominent industry in Birmingham but steel is still made.  Three of the major steel producers have strong presences in Birmingham and there are talks of major expansion in the next several years of their facilities.   One of the reasons behind these plans is the reinvestment of the Rosa Coal Mine Project by MCoal Corp. based in Vancouver, British Columbia,  Canada. 

There has been increased interest again in coal as an alternate energy source since the invasion of Iraq seven years ago.   And so companies like MCoal have been looking at coal deposits that have not been fully tapped such as the coal that is in the Rosa Mine.   This particular coal field had been stripped mined in the late 1960’s and 1970’s but the main coal fields have not been.   Resulting in a coal field that is ideally suited according to MCoal for augur type mining.  They believe Rosa Coal Mine will be able to produce 1 million tons of coal  per year within the next 5 to 7 years for a total of 5 million tons of coal to be  recovered. 

 This all sounds wonderful at a time when Alabama, along with the rest of country, is facing its most critical economic crisis in over 80 years.  The project is expected to provide about 25 local jobs for the next 3-5 years. However there is a damper on all this expansion talk.  What is the impact of augur mining on the people who live in and around Rosa Coal Mine, including the city of Birmingham?  

The mine is located within 100 feet of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River, a primary source of water for the city of Birmingham.  Augur mining results in toxic water sludge that will be dumped into the river and enter into the aquifers underground. 

Locust Fork at Black Warrior River

Locust Fork at Black Warrior River

A study done by West Virginia University on the effects of coal mining on the health of the community found there was a 70 percent increase in kidney disease, a 64 percent increase for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as emphysema, and a 30 percent increase in hypertension.  The study compensated for the likelihood of increased chronic illnesses because of lack of health care and increased tobacco smoking in these communities. The study noted that COPD increased by 1 percent for every 1,462 tons of coal mined.    The study concludes “The human cost of the Appalachian coal economy outweighs its economic benefit.” 

At what price do we state the monetary gains are worth the loss of human life?  What is an acceptable loss?   A three percent increase in COPD and kidney disease?  A ten percent increase?  A 70 percent increase?  If my math is correct and I won’t vouch that it is … but with the statistics given above,   1 million tons of coal divided by 1,462 tons would yield a 683 percent increase in COPD and that is just over the course of one year’s projection.   Of course such mathematics can’t possibly be accurate to reality but even if these statistics were only 10 percent right,  this is still an increase of 68 percent. Is 5 million tons of coal worth the risk of increasing COPD in a given population–for the creation of only 25 local jobs? 

We already have a broken health care system in this nation.   Costs are out of reach for most people and that is for people who have health insurance.   Insurance companies know these statistics and base their costs on regional projections.  Guaranteed health insurance costs will rise in the northwest  corner of Alabama because of this renewed mining effort. 

This connection seems to be lost on MCoal.  Or perhaps they were aware of it since the permit announcements that require public hearings did not get public notice in the press until it was time for the hearings to take place.   The first permit was filed May 5 2009 with the newspapers  picking up the story on July 1.  The public comment period ends on August 1 2009.   There is a petition that can be signed today located at  this site

There has got to be a better way than destroying human life to make a buck.

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 11:45 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Living Wage Campaign

It might seem counter-intuitive to even begin talking about the need for a living wage for Americans in the face of our current economic crisis.   But if we are going to fix our economy, then what better time than to do so by ensuring that all Americans are paid incomes that enable them to be above the poverty line.  

With the cost of food, fuel, and health care rising at alarming rates and efforts to fix these concerns being derailed by the industries that control them, the alternative to ensure that this nation continues to live out its most valiant of creeds of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all is to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2010.   

Consider this fact, the last time the federal minimum wage was able to meet the basic costs of Americans with food, shelter, and health care was in 1968.   The year that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated was the last year that a job could actually help a person get out of poverty rather than keep her in it. The minimum wage in 1968 had the purchasing power of just under $10 of today’s purchasing power.  

In the forty one years that passed, the gap between the the poor and the wealthy has grown beyond a gap into an unfathomable chasm.  Consider that one man in this country has more wealth than the combined wealth of 45% of America.   That man is Bill Gates.   Nothing wrong in the success of this one man, but the contrast illustrates that America is no longer the land of flowing milk and honey.   Our American Dream has become in the 21st century a psychotic nightmare. 

Maybe we wouldn’t need to consider this option if America would adopt a single payer system of health care.  But that option has been scrubbed off the table by Democrats caving in to the lobbyists of the Health Care Industry.   And by fears that having a single payer system would be a step towards socialism when we already have used socialized solutions with great success in the last 80 years, i.e. social security, medicare/medicaid, veterans benefits and now government take overs of practically whole industries like banking and auto industries.   The fears are unfounded, socialism does not equate with communism.  And Socialist Democracies do not equate with reduced freedoms.   Several of our greatest allies are socialist democracies; Britain, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries to name a few with higher living standards than the US. 

So here are some additional facts as to why it is important to raise the floor of our economy in order to support the cathedral ceiling.   As of January 2009, most of the 27 states that had a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage had lower unemployment rates.  I don’t know if that has held true as the recession deepened these past 6 months–I will investigate.   Five states have no established minimum wage including Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana–states with the highest rates of poverty anywhere in the country.  Correlation?  I don’t know.

However, the Fiscal Policy Institute reports that states with the higher minimum wage resulted in the fastest job growth across all sectors, including retail which has a disproportionate number of minimum wage earners.  The fear that it would result in job loss is unfounded.

The third phase of the minimum wage act passed three years ago will go into affect July 24, raising the federal minimum wage to $7.25.  However the buying power of this rate still falls short of the buying power of the  $5.15 minimum wage set in 1997 by twenty cents.  It is better but it still is not a living wage it merely is a dog nipping at its own tail. 

“A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it,” said Holly Sklar, senior policy adviser for Let Justice Roll and co-author of A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future. “The minimum wage sets the wage floor, and we cannot build a strong economy on downwardly mobile wages and rising poverty, inequality and insecurity.  As President Roosevelt understood, we have to raise the floor to lift the economy.”

Amen.  Blessings,

Why We Can’t Wait

On the Monday that I flew out to Salt Lake City, Utah for the 48th General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalists,  I found my plane delayed in Birmingham several times, leaving over 5 hours after the scheduled time.  Needless to say I was a bit aggravated and impatient.  I finally made it to Dallas-Forth Worth for my connection flight that was now two hours after I arrived there.  As I got on board the plane and found my seat, my row companion looked up at me and asked, “Are you one of my colleagues?” 

Serendipitously, I was sitting next to Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas.  It turned out that he had missed his earlier flight.  Okay, so maybe there is a god, I thought to myself wondering what this meeting would bring.  We had a wonderful conversation that only two UUministers could have and we turned to serious matters.   Daniel asked me why were gay activists so impatient with Obama.  Didn’t we understand that Obama has to play politics in order for the right moment to repeal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act)  and DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) ? I gave some answers that I thought were pertinent.  He then said, “Why don’t you blog about this conversation?”

Here is my further reflection on why we can’t wait for civil rights.   First a recap of the answer I gave on the plane.  Yes, I think gay activists are savvy enough to know political maneuvering when we see it.   But the DOMA brief that was written by Obama staff  did more than just defend the current law, it attacked our dignity and  integrity.  The brief  compared same sex marriage to court rulings banning pedophilia coupling and incestual coupling.   Consensual same sex coupling is clearly not in the same category as the manipulative pedophilia relationship nor does it result in the potential  biological damages in offspring as incestual relationships.  President Bush’s brief on DOMA did not even broach these relationships in its argument to uphold DOMA. 

DADT does not need to have congress to repeal it.  When President Harry S Truman integrated the armed services he did so with an executive order.  President Obama could do the same.  He chooses not to.   The arguments against allowing sexual minorities into the military no longer carries any weight with Canada, Britain, France, and Israel all having openly gay military serving in their forces.    These militaries are considered to be among the greatest armed forces in the world.   They have not been compromised with gay personnel and nor will our armed services if sexual minorities are allowed to serve openly with honor and dignity. 

These were the reasons I gave but it does not answer the question as to why we cannot wait.  The answer came to me as I was listening to the talk given by Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, minister of the Arlington Street Church in Boston, during our honoring of those ministers who were celebrating 25 years of ministry.   She included remembrances of  her services to people living with HIV/AIDS. 

This year is the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the riots that occurred when police raided a gay bar in the Greenwich Village region of New York City.   Police were known to raid the gay bars from time to time, haul people into jail.  Occasionally a well known figure would be arrested and have his career destroyed.  On the night of the riots, however, the patrons, many of them drag queens, said enough is enough and fought back.  They were joined by others.   The riots continued for several days.    The beginnings of a re-energized gay civil rights campaign began.  This was 1969. 

There was progress towards rights in the ten years that followed and then in 1979 gay men began to get ill with mysterious diseases.  It did not capture the attention of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  until mid 1981.   There was no funding to study this new outbreak.  There was little need to be concerned because after all these were gay men.  It was called gay cancer and in some hospitals;  medical staff called it WOGS (Wrath of God Syndrome). 

There was a sense in America that some how these people deserved this disease.  It was a death sentence.  Once diagnosed with PCP or KS or Toxo, a person had weeks, rarely months to live.  The immune system so compromised to allow these rare illnesses to ravage the body there was little hope of living.   Hundreds became thousands of young gay men dying. 

We were dispensable.  We had no rights.  We could be evicted from our homes on suspect of being gay.  We could be fired on appearances alone.    Nursing staff, doctors could refuse to serve a person with HIV/AIDS.  We were denied visiting rights of our partners as they lay dying in the hospital.  When our partners died, family members who wrote them off years before would swoop in and simply take the body of our loved ones. They would evict us from our homes if the house was in our partner’s name.  And they would legally contest the wills as blood relatives and win.  

We had to fight for research monies to find life extending medications.     So many of us lost health insurance because of an AIDS diagnosis.  We had to fight for monies to provide housing for those living with HIV/AIDS. We were denied Social Security Disability because AIDS was not seen as a qualifying disability–thereby a person with AIDS lost all means for an income and medical assistance.   We organized and succeeded to have drugs developed that extended life, not only by months but by years, restoring many to be able to lead productive lives again.  It was a hard fight.   But it is a fight we still have to contend with. 

Governor Jodi Rell of Connecticut decided to cut to zero what she considered to be non-essential services for the budget that begins today.  All AIDS funding was cut which will resort in people with HIV/AIDS to once again face medical crisis as they find services no longer available to them.  For contrast park and recreational services were deemed essential services.

Alabama rejected Federal Ryan White funds which amounted to a total of $10 million in medical treatment for people with HIV/AIDS and rejected an additional $700K in funding for support services.    These two examples are being repeated across the nation. 

Why can’t we wait?  We are tired of being expendable under the law.  We are tired of being deemed second class citizens that do not have partnership medical benefits, or employment rights, or housing rights, or marriage rights, or survivorship benefits.  Our lives can be trampled on by survivors who refused to acknowledge our existence while alive but want every piece of us when we are dead.  This demeans our integrity and sense of worth. 

To continue to live with the lies that the far right is spreading regarding the hate crimes bill and the employment non-discrimination Act (ENDA) is degrading and immoral. 

We have paid for our rights as full citizens with our lives.   We have paid dearly.   For us to have supported a President who campaigned hard and long on a promise of equality winning our votes, to now tell us to have patience after the thousands of lives that have been lost to HIV/AIDS is unconscionable. Telling us to have patience after the thousands of deaths as a result of  homophobic violence in our schools, in our communities, in our families that continue to this very day is cruel. Now is not the time for patience.  Now is the time for fulfilling promises made that helped place this president and his party into office.

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 7:17 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,