One of the many things that irks me about the way that social justice movements are promoted by nonprofits through to the masses is the use of the either/or lens. I have written extensively over the years about how this has played out in the context of immigration policy and practice struggles in the United States. Whenever a bill is up for discussion, the so-called “good” side, that is the Democratic Party, pushes this good immigrant/bad immigrant binary and non-profits, in an often misguided effort to keep themselves afloat and gain a victory, take this language as their own. We see it with the push for the DREAM Act and the various state in-state tuition namesakes. We see it with the push against criminalizing deportation programs like Secure Communities. Now we see it again in the fight against H.B. 56 in Alabama.
Passed in June of last year, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, or H.B. 56 is considered one of the harshest anti-immigrant laws in the United States. It requires schools to check and report the immigration status of their students and bars undocumented students from postsecondary education. It instructs police to demand proof of immigration status from anyone they suspect of being in the country without documentation, even on a routine traffic stop or roadblock. It also invalidates any contract knowingly entered into with an undocumented immigrant, including routine agreements such as a rent contract, and makes it a felony for an undocumented immigrant to enter into a contract with a government entity.
Hollywood director Chris Weitz, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas along with the Center for American Progress recently launched a campaign to repeal H.B. 56 called “Is this Alabama”. The accompanying report to the campaign, Alabama’s Immigration Disaster, focuses on the economic and civil rights impact of the law:
Overall, as Professor Samuel Addy of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration has illustrated, because of H.B. 56, Alabama could lose up to $10.8 billion (or 6.2 percent of its gross domestic product), up to 140,000 jobs in the state, $264.5 million in state tax revenue, and $93 million in local tax revenue.
These costs will all be incurred to drive out an undocumented population that is estimated to be only 2.5 percent of the state—a population that paid $130 million into the state’s tax coffers in 2010.
Alabama’s agricultural industry and foreign investment are especially affected. Chad Smith, a tomato farmer, estimates that he could lose up to $300,000 in produce because of the lack of farmworkers who are now fleeing the state. And recent embarrassing incidents such as the arrest of Mercedes-Benz and Honda executives under the provisions of the new law jeopardize the presence of foreign companies, which give the state both a significant amount of money and a significant number of jobs—percent of the state’s workforce in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available.
The campaign also features videos reflecting the personal, human impact of H.B. 56, asking people in Alabama their feelings about the law and framing the law in the context of the long struggle against racism in the state.
Check out one of the videos:
While repealing H.B. 56 is certainly something I am behind, I am concerned with framing issues of racism against blacks as something belonging to Alabama’s past – the United States’ past. Calling the struggle for equality and justice for all migrants the civil rights issue of our times implies that there is no more work to be done in terms of racism against blacks and the legacy of slavery in one state and across the country. All people have to do is look at the recently aired documentary Slavery by Another Name and look at who is being incarcerated and how to see that there is a hell of a long way to go when it comes to fighting racism. When racism is framed as either black or brown, real solidarity work is watered down. The reality is that the prison industrial complex that uses people of color bodies as raw materials is connected to the immigration criminalization complex.
So yes H.B. 56 is Alabama. It is the United States whose new budget features more money for Secure Communities. Failing to make the connections means we will continue to spread our resources too thin and be divided and conquered.