13 undocumented Americans arrested at the AL state capitol yesterday. "We will no longer remain in the shadows." Photo by Stephen Pavey.

The Governor of Alabama, upset about a New York Times article that compared HB56 to  Jim Crow, boldly and ignorantly offended people of conscience yesterday, declaring:

To equate this to the Civil Rights movement is an insult to the Civil Rights movement. It’s an insult to the men and women who had their homes bombed, the children who were killed in Birmingham up at the 16th Street Baptist Church… so it’s an insult to them.

The Governor Bentley’s quote is tragically ignorant and disturbing; he should apologize immediately.  He is not in the position to pass judgement on the immigrant justice movement nor to speak for the activists and the victims of the Civil Rights Movement.  Governor Bentley is insulting the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, a struggle for justice, which the immigrant justice movement is honoring by continuing the work that remains.  Rev. King’s dream is not reality.  The Beloved Community does not exist in Alabama.  Equality and justice are not guaranteed.  Fear and shame rule over hope and pride.  The work remains and the struggle continues.

The New York Times wrote:

[HB56] was written to deny immigrants without papers the ability to work or travel, to own or rent a home, to enter contracts of any kind. Fear is causing an exodus as Latinos abandon homes and jobs and crops in the fields. Utilities are preparing to shut off water, power and heat to customers who cannot show the right papers.

Alabama is far from alone in passing a law whose express aim is misery and panic. States are expanding their power to hasten racial exclusion and family disintegration, to make a particular ethnic group of poor people disappear. The new laws come cloaked in talk of law and order; the bigotry beneath them is never acknowledged.

But if there is any place where bigotry does not go unrecognized, it is Alabama.

While the Governor does not see the common bonds of racism and injustice, NBC recently asked the mother of an undocumented family in Montgomery, why did the law pass?  She responded: “Por qué paso? Porque racismo simplamente.  Why did it pass? Simply because of racism.”  Furthermore, her daughter responded with confidence, “We’re fighting against racism, as it happened years ago in the Civil Rights Movement towards African Americans, now they want to do something like that towards Latinos.”  Likewise Gabriela Vazquez told a reporter about what happened when she let her son’s African-American teacher know that  they were leaving due to HB56, saying, “I held back tears as she told me about the struggles the black community had fought in this same state.”

Similarly stories and sentiments were reported from the Birmingham’s Board of Education hearing:

‘Due to the law, I have struggles fulfilling my dreams,’ a tearful Hernandez told the board. ‘I’m thankful to Birmingham city schools for allowing me to study here. Children have so many dreams, like I did, and due to this law, it’s hard to meet them.’

Rosalva Bermudez, an English as a Second Language program specialist in Birmingham, used a Spanish translation of  Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in her class.  ‘Now here in 2011, Martin Luther King’s speech gains new meaning to me,’ she said.

‘If this isn’t racism, if this isn’t Jim Crow, this is a disgrace before God,’ board member Emanuel Ford said of the law. ‘I can’t believe that in 2011, we would do something so blatant.’

If the Governor had spoken with Rev. Graetz then he would have know better than to say what he did.  Rev. Graetz not only worked with Rosa Parks and Rev. Martin Luther King on the Montgomery bus boycott, but the Klu Klux Klan also bombed his house three times, trying to kill him and his family.  This summer Rev. Graetz led the participants of VamosTogether’s anti-HB56 rally in prayer.  He told the press that opposition to the immigration statute was just “one more phase of the civil rights movement.”  “ To single out Hispanic people for unequal treatment, violates the teachings of the Bible and is similar to the treatment of Black people during the Civil Rights Movement,” said Rev. Graetz, who reminded listeners that Rev. King said, “ injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and preached of creating “the beloved community” and that HB56 violates those principles.

If the Governor had spoken with any leader of the Civil Rights Movement from the recently deceased Rev. Shuttlesworth to Jesse Jackson to James Lawson to Rev. Joseph Lowery then he would have known better than to say what he did.  We don’t need to quote them all, but we must listen to the words of U.S. Representative John Lewis, who called the immigrant justice movement the new civil rights movement.  Rep. Lewis, who spoke at the March on Washington and was beaten in Selma, Alabama, was asked what is the call of the current generation and he responded:

I would love to see more people, especially young people, get involved in this whole issue of trying to demonize the Latino population. Too many of our brothers and sisters are being racially profiled because of their background, last name or the language they may speak. The state of Georgia is copying the state of Arizona, and I think there will be other states to follow the same path. When you take on the immigrant population, you’re taking on all of us.

During the Freedom Rides, we were saying, in effect, you arrest one of us, you’re going to arrest all of us. You beat 15 or 20 of us, then you’re going to have to beat more than 400 of us. I see parallels between then and now. There must be a real movement to resist this attempt to say that people who come from another land are not one of us.

On Monday, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) is among those scheduled to appear at Monday at an anti-HB56 rally at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, where a bombing in 1963 killed four young black girls and helped fuel the civil rights movement.  He is certainly proud of the 13 (9 youths, 4 parents) brave undocumented Americans that were arrested yesterday at the state capitol in Montgomery in an act of civil disobedience.  The LA Times reported on the arrests:

The police were firm but careful as they cuffed protesters with plastic bands and led them without incident to a school bus. Philip Bryan, the chief of staff for Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, said authorities were striving to avoid a public relations debacle.

“What you don’t want is that front-page of Time [magazine] picture where they’re being drug by the neck,” Bryan said, perhaps alluding to incendiary images from the civil rights era.

VamosTogether is also proud of and thankful for these brave individuals, who were showing Alabama and the nation that they have nothing to be ashamed of, as they chanted “Undocumented! Unafraid!” while waiting to be arrested.  They were putting a human face on the undocumented American population and demanding their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  They vocalized their opposition to the racism and the fear of HB56 as they told reporters that they could not remain in the shadows in the face of oppression.

4 of the 13 undocumented Americans who were arrested on 11/15. Just days earlier they took inspiration from Rev. Martin Luther King's words: "Whatever career you choose for yourself, become a dedicated fighter for civil rights." Photo by Stephen Parvey.

Fernanda is one of these brave individuals; she tells her story here:


If you are watching this, I have been arrested in Alabama

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