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Democrats Visit Alabama To Push For End Of Immigration Law

Democrats Alabama Immigration

First Posted: 11/21/11 06:38 PM ET Updated: 11/22/11 11:57 AM ET

A group of congressional Democrats gathered in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday to show support for a growing movement against the state's immigration law, aiming to "rush its demise," according to Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

"We were here not only to show support but to tell the people of Alabama, the people that are fighting this law, the opposition to the law, plus the immigrant families that are being directly affected, that they're not alone," Grijalva, co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told HuffPost.

He called an end to the law "inevitable," but said critics may be able to speed the process of repealing it by applying pressure to state lawmakers. A coalition of immigrant and civil rights groups joined with labor groups and religious organizations to fight the law, H.B. 56.

The 11 members heard from various advocates and Alabama residents who said the law is hurting the state, whether by frightening immigrants and Latinos, hurting local businesses or diminishing the state's reputation. The much-criticized law, implemented in June, allows police and local government workers to ask about immigration status during stops and interactions with the government.

Some Latinos, both undocumented and those in the country legally, fled the state in reaction to the law, according to reports. Farms and local businesses reported losing workers and customers, and absentee rates increased in local schools. Last week, a German executive for Mercedes Benz was arrested under the law for failing to carry his driver's license.

At an ad hoc hearing on Monday in Birmingham, congressional members heard from the city's mayor, William Bell, as well as a parent, a local high school teacher and a businessman, among others. A 17-year-old student told the delegation that she feared her parents, both of whom were undocumented, who be forced to leave the state, leaving her there alone to finish her education.

Another woman, identified as Trini, said she and her neighbors are unable to renew the registration on their mobile homes due to the law, because residents must prove legal status before they can obtain the sticker. She said the law makes immigrants fearful of going outside.

"I used to participate in festivals and activities in our community but now I don't go out and feel like a prisoner in my house," she told the members of congress, according to her planned remarks. "We miss the freedom to go out for dinner or go to the park without being monitored."

Angie Wright, who represents Greater Birmingham Ministries on the steering committee for the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said that one moving testimony focused on the questions faced by families considering leaving the state.

"It's horrible choices that families are facing," Wright told HuffPost. "I think the people who passed laws weren't thinking about the fact that most families aren't all undocumented, most families are a mix of documented and undocumented."

Critics of the law have taken a two-pronged approach. Some groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the state to block the law, a move that was repeated by the Department of Justice. The Justice Department lawsuit was partially successful; although most of the law went into effect, a federal judge blocked a provision that allowed schools to inquire about immigration status and another that required immigrants to carry an "alien registration card."

At the same time, opponents of the law are pushing for its repeal. A bill to end the law was already introduced in the state legislature, and the coalition plans to gather 1,000 people to rally at the Capitol when it opens for its next session in February.

"We're trying to get the law repealed or blocked in Congress," Mitch Ackerman, an executive vice president for Service Employees International Union, said from Alabama. "First they went after workers, and now they went out for business leaders. I think there is just going to be a rising chorus that says 'Not in our America.'"