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Jeremy B. Love

Jeremy B. Love, Alabama Introduces the Immigration Debate to its Classrooms, 38-FALL Human Rights 7 (Fall, 2011).


Ana is a nine-year-old girl who lives in a small town in rural Alabama. She attends elementary school and has excelled at reading. She goes through about two books a week. I met Ana and her family recently at a legal clinic for low-income immigrant families in her small part of Alabama. As an immigration attorney, I have been fortunate to participate in several legal clinics across Alabama assisting the state's underserved immigrant population. Ana was born in Alabama, about a year after her mother and older sister rejoined her father, who had been working in the United States. In her home, she speaks Spanish, and in school she learns all of her subjects in English.

Ana's father left Guatemala for the United States to find work twelve years ago, Like many other Hispanics, he found work in a poultry plant. The work was grueling, but he was happy to have the employment and sent nearly half of his income to Guatemala for his wife to buy food for herself and their oldest daughter Celina. The Guatemalan Civil War had ended just a few years before, but the country was still ravaged by thirty years of war and human rights violations by the country's military, a military that received funds from the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.

Because she was born in the United States, Ana is a U.S. citizen. When she grows up, she can work for the federal government if she chooses, and when she turns eighteen, she can vote. Her sister Celina is without legal status because she crossed the border with her parents without a visa when she was three years old, and she will not be able to obtain a driver's license when she turns sixteen in a few years.

Ana and her family came to me because they wanted to know what could be done about their immigration status. They also wanted to know more about Alabama's infamous immigration law, H.B. 56, and how it may affect the parents' ability to work or the children's opportunity to attend school.

The Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, also known as the Alabama Immigration Law, or H.B. 56, went into effect on September 28, 2011. Despite its name, the bill fails to provide any protection for certain taxpayers--undocumented immigrants who paid $130 million in taxes in Alabama in 2010. After the bill was proposed in March, it labored for months in the State House while the immigrant community in Alabama scrambled for information on the bill's contents and implications. The panic reached a fever pitch in June, when Governor Robert Bentley signed the bill into law, and continued as nonprofit organizations, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and religious leaders battled the state over the law. Community organizations, such as the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA!), saw a dramatic increase in the number of clients seeking services including powers of attorney, consultations on immigration issues, and assistance with passport applications. HICA! saw an increase in clients in 2011 by over 50 percent from those served in 2010.