The fear and panic in Alabama has become a nightmare for immigrant families now living under the state's strict anti-immigrant law. But the worst aspect of the measure is taking a serious toll on the state's schoolchildren.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn upheld major provisions of the new law, which went into effect immediately. The law was passed by large margins in both chambers of the Republican-led legislature and signed by Alabama's GOP governor, who proudly calls it the "strongest immigration law in the country."
The law authorizes police to detain people "suspected" of being undocumented immigrants when stopped for any reason. The law also targets children requiring schools to determine the legal residency of students upon enrollment.
The terror of immigration enforcement is now in effect in the Alabama classroom. It's traumatizing the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. Despite Alabama's deep history of civil rights struggles, the state has now become the first to officially legalize racial profiling.
The day after the court ruling, over 2,400 Latino students in Alabama were recorded absent, or about seven percent of the 34,657 enrolled statewide.
Students like Jose, a 16-year-old undocumented immigrant originally from Mexico and now living in Pelham, says he's afraid to travel to and from school. "A policeman could arrest me just because of the color of my skin," he told Reuters. "I have to be afraid of my teachers, the people I look up to."
The Obama administration has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, to block the law while it's being appealed.
Meanwhile, the estimated 75,000 to 160,000 undocumented immigrants living in Alabama are fleeing their homes, their schools, their jobs and the state in fear of being deported.
Sources indicate the exodus began hours after the court made its ruling. Rights advocates, educators and employers in Alabama say immigrant families are leaving town.
Farmers, contractors and home builders in Alabama say the law has already been devastating, leaving rotting crops in fields and critical shortages of labor.
Rumors of raids and roadblocks are rampant. One report tells of a Latino pastor who was recently pulled over and his driver friend, who was undocumented, was detained after the policeman told him he was "no longer welcome in Alabama."
The horror of this unconstitutional law legalizing the separate and unequal treatment of Latinos and immigrants must be stopped.
Images of immigrant families in hiding, fearing for their lives and going underground, recall the ugly ghosts of Nazi branding of Jewish families (and others) with the infamous yellow star, an act that preceded mass round ups and concentration camps.
There is no exception for such an inhumane and un-American enforcement and we urge Alabama lawmakers and the federal courts to reject such treatment. We cannot allow Alabama's courageous civil rights history to be rolled back. The racist criminalization and demoralizing law must end. Living in fear under the Alabama law is not our America. We are better than that.
Photo: UMWomen // CC 2.0