Friday, April 8, 2011

¡Viva México!

The Alabama House voted yes to the anti-immigration bill sponsored by Representative Micky Hammon, R-Decatur on Tuesday. The proposed legislation mimics Arizona’s SB 1070 and plays on xenophobic feelings recently further fostered by the economic downturn.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the state counts only 3.2% persons of Hispanic or Latino origin (vs. 15.8% in the US). The presence of Latinos in Alabama has grown exponentially in the last few years, and the official data admittedly don’t reveal the actual numbers of Hispanics who lack proper documentation to live in the United States. However, the economic recession has affected the immigration flows as well since all potential workers have been having a hard time finding jobs.

Critics of the legislation question its economic rationale and some also point to the further governmental intrusion into people’s lives (what about small government?) As in Arizona, the main concern regards indeed racial profiling. SB 1070 is in court at the moment and its constitutionality has been questioned.

Likewise, the Alabama Senate will have to vote on the law; if approved, Governor Bentley will have to sign it; then, a similar procedure awaits the piece of legislation in court.

On Thursday, I volunteered at the Church of the Ascension in the Garden District of Montgomery. Hundreds of Mexican citizens have flooded the low corridors of the church this week.

The Mexican consulate of Atlanta set up a mobile outpost at the Church in order to provide consular registration and passports to Mexican nationals residing in Alabama. As Pamela Long, coordinator of the International Studies Program at AUM and Hispanic Minister at the Church of the Ascension reports: in the past two years, the Church of the Ascension has hosted this event three times—each time about 800 to 1000 documents were issued.

On my volunteer shift on Thursday, my task was handing “lapiceros” (Mexican Spanish for “pens”) to the ones who need it: a $1 donation was requested. Funny thing was that most of the people thought I was taking offerings for the church and kept throwing bills in my little wicker basket. I had to turn them down.

Best part about the whole experience was looking at the small children walking up and down the aisles: the most beautiful ninos in Alabama! They are, also, the future of this state and of the country—projections are saying that Latinos will be the new majority by 2040.

Representative Hammon wants “to discourage illegal immigrants from coming to Alabama and prevent those who are here from putting down roots.” Attempts to criminalize Mexicans and other foreigners are vicious and, in Alabama, even economically un-sound. Several advocate groups protested in front of the Alabama State House in early March. That didn’t prevent the bill to get passed in the House. If Alabama intends to get rid of the stigma that has stained its historical past in terms of civil and human rights, it cannot allow this bill to go any further.