Alabama law affects all aspects of immigrant life

Alabama law affects all aspects of immigrant life

October 15th, 2011 by Perla Trevizo in News

Silvestre Juan stands inside his store, Tienda Latino, in Fort Payne, Ala., while discussing Alabama's immigration law.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

Alabama unauthorized population

1990: 5,000

2000: 25,000

2010: 120,000

Source: Pew Hispanic Center

Population broken down by race/ethnicity


• Total: 4.8 million

• White: 3.2 million, 67 percent

• Black: 1.2 million, 26 percent

• Hispanic: 185,602, 4 percent

DeKalb County

• Total: 897,934

• White: 586,752, 65 percent

• Black: 186,782, 21 percent

• Hispanic: 73,221, 8 percent

Fort Payne

• Total: 14,012

• White: 10.091, 79 percent

• Black: 21, 0.1 percent

• Hispanic: 2,930, 21 percent

Source: U.S. Census

FORT PAYNE, Ala. -- The full provisions of Alabama's new immigration law have yet to be implemented, but already its impact in the immigrant community -- including fear -- is considered much larger than in other states with similar get-tough measures.

"I don't think we saw anywhere near the level of terror from families and children we are seeing [in Alabama]," said Mary Bauer, legal director with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., in a telephone news conference last week.

It's been over two weeks since Alabama's law -- considered by many on both sides of the debate as the toughest in the country -- went into effect. Advocates and immigrants say the result has been a climate of fear that affects everything from families and schools to business and agriculture.

In other states, "we've heard stories of families choosing to leave and rotting crops [because farmers can't find laborers], but not wholesale terror and destruction of families," Bauer said. "The other laws didn't have provisions involving schoolchildren, and the most onerous provisions were [blocked by courts]."

Count Valentina Rodriguez among the immigrants who are afraid for themselves and their children.

The single mother worries about what would happen to her 10-year-old daughter if Rodriguez should be stopped by a police officer and detained for being in the country illegally.

Rodriguez went to Niko Services for Immigrants, a Florida-based nonprofit that has an office in Fort Payne, last week to ask what she could do to sign a power of attorney so friends could keep her daughter if she is deported.

"We don't want people to feel sorry for us, but as parents, these are things you think about," said the Mexico native.



Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act

Among other things, school officials are required to check the immigration status of students for reporting purposes. It also allows police officers to check the legal status of those detained for other reasons and to hold suspected illegal immigrants without bond.

It also makes it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and $100 fine for a first offense not carrying prove of legal status.

Parts of the law still blocked include making it a crime for an illegal immigrant to solicit work, to transport or harbor an illegal immigrant, and barring drivers from stopping along a road to hire temporary workers.

Source: The Associated Press


A federal appeals court on Friday blocked a key part of Alabama's law that requires schools to check the immigration status of students.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta also blocked a part of the law that allows authorities to charge immigrants who do not carry documents proving their legal status. The three-judge panel let stand a provision that allows police to detain immigrants that are suspected of being in the country illegally.

A final decision on the law won't be made for months to allow time for more arguments.

Source: The Associated Press

Alabama's immigration law took effect Sept. 29 after a federal judge upheld most of it, including requirements that police officers check the immigration status of people they detain for other reasons and that public schools determine the status of their students and report it to the state.

However, the public school provision temporarily was blocked Friday by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Nicholas Milano, director of Niko Services, said he's been getting calls day and night from people asking him what they should do.

Bauer said a complaint hotline at Southern Poverty received more than 2,000 calls statewide in less than one week. Calls ranged from sick immigrants who didn't want to drive to a hospital, to parents reporting their Hispanic children being call "wetbacks" and bullied in school, she said.

POLL: Is the Alabama immigration law too tough?

Fort Payne City Superintendent of Schools Jimmy Cunningham said he's not aware of anything like that happening in his school district. Children are being enrolled in school regardless of legal status, he said, and the documentation is to be used for reporting purposes only.

But parents are afraid, and there have been reports of children taken out of school or not showing up for class. Hispanic students make up about 31 percent of all students in the Fort Payne school district. Since the law went into effect, 34 of 968 Hispanic students withdrew, Cunningham said.

Merchants along the main street of Fort Payne said business has decreased 40 to 50 percent.

"People are not leaving their homes" because they're not here legally and are afraid of being stopped by police, said Silvestre Juan, a naturalized citizen from Guatemala who operates Tienda Latino, where he sells Latin American products and offers money-transfer services.

Jose Barrios, who was visiting Juan, said he has four brothers who left for Tennessee and Kentucky once the law went into effect. But Barrios said his U.S.-born children, ages 8, 13 and 15, and his home keep him in Alabama.

"My wife and I have talked about it, but we just don't know what to do," said the Mexico native who entered illegally in 1992 and has lived in Fort Payne for 14 years.

He signed a power of attorney giving his brother, a legal permanent resident, custody of his children if he and his wife are deported.

A few blocks from Tienda Latino, Juan Vitela talked about the possibility of closing his store, La Unica Beauty Shop, because business is so bad.

Norberta Vitorio, 48, said she lost her job last week after telling her boss she was afraid to drive.

"He asked me if I was in the country illegally, and when I said 'yes,' he told me I couldn't work there anymore because he could get in trouble," she said.

The Mexico native said she plans to go back to her country in January.

The section of the new law that frightens people most is the provision that gives law enforcement the right to check their immigration status if they're detained on other charges or reasons, residents said. Many fear it can lead to racial profiling. It's also the provision that has been blocked by federal judges in other states, including Georgia and Arizona. But it was not part of the Alabama provisions that were blocked by Friday's court ruling.

Vitela said he left the store with another friend, also Hispanic, last week and was followed closely by a police car. As he made a right turn, he was stopped for crossing into the other lane. He and his passenger were asked for their driver's licenses. Each produced his license but noted that passengers had not been asked for ID before.


Document: Alabama House Bill 56

The role of local law enforcement in the new law doesn't concern only immigrants. Police and public officials have their own worries.

"We haven't had any training on it whatsoever," said Fort Payne Police Chief Randy Bynum. "It really means a lot of unknowns; we just don't know how we are going to handle it."

So far they haven't made any arrests under the new law, he said.

Ricky Harcrow, DeKalb County Commission president for 16 years, said the county is in limbo on many aspects of the law, including what is required for people renewing their tags. Do they need to verify legal documentation in person or can they still mail it in?

He also worries about how enforcement may affect local governments.

"The cost of [the law enforcement implementation] can get astronomical," he said. "There are so many things involved ... that can be a nightmare."

The law may be hard to implement initially, but something needs to be done about illegal immigration, Harcrow said.

In justifying the bill, its authors cited the economic hardship that illegal immigration has caused the state in health, education and costs for public benefits.

"Illegal immigration is encouraged when public agencies within this state provide public benefits without verifying immigration status," the bill reads.

Tweak the law?

Nicholas Milano speaks with Valentina Rodriguez inside of his office at Niko Services for Immigrants Wednesday in Fort Payne, Ala. Milano meets with local Hispanics who are concerned or affected about the immigration law and offers advice or legal council. Rodriguez, who is in the country illegally, is trying to change the last name of her child, but is unsure if she is going to be able to do so to do so because of new law bars state courts from enforcing contracts involving illegal immigrants.

Nicholas Milano speaks with Valentina Rodriguez inside of...

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

The Hispanic community in Fort Payne, the largest share of unauthorized immigrants in the country, has grown 86 percent since 2000 -- from 1,574 to 2,930 in 2010 -- attracted primarily by work in the poultry and hosiery industries.

Immigration, legal or illegal, has helped fill jobs that might be hard to fill otherwise, Harcrow said. But he also said immigrants have taken jobs away from people who "probably would have done" the work. Still, he would like to see the law tweaked to include some program or exemption for farmers or poultry growers who need seasonal help, which often is filled by undocumented workers.

"I do think that needs to be looked at on the local level; we know what we need," Harcrow said.

As states get tougher with immigration, farmers have reported crops rotting in the field because they can't get enough workers.

Stephen Talley, from Talley's Farm in Crossville, Ala., said he lost the only Hispanic employee he had on his 12-acre farm, where he grows strawberries and pumpkins. The Mexico native returned to his country with his wife and two U.S.-born children at the end of August, Talley said, when the law originally was scheduled to go into effect. Talley said he wasn't aware of his status.

"Some of the bigger farms are seeing a larger impact, especially apple farmers," he said.

Workers are hard to find, he said.

"During strawberry season I might need five or six people, but from October through April, I don't. I can't supply anyone with s full-time job," he said.

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