Immigration Issue: Interview with Southern Poverty Law Center
Since this is an election year, I wanted to know more about the hot-button issue of Immigration, specifically HB56, which has far-reaching ramifications. I contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center and requested an interview. They graciously accepted and the following is my interview with Lecia Brooks:
Lecia Brooks – SPLC’s Director of Outreach
Prior to joining the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2004, I was deeply engaged in human relations and anti-oppression work in Southern California. In addition, I was a 5th grade teacher to newly arrived immigrants in South Los Angeles. It was during my service as a classroom teacher that I became aware of SPLC through its Teaching Tolerance project.
In 2004 I became the director of Mix It Up at Lunch Day, a Teaching Tolerance program designed to support youth in crossing racial, cultural and social barriers and build inclusive and welcoming school communities.
I now lead SPLC’s outreach efforts on key initiatives and social justice issues. As outreach director, I frequently conduct trainings and presentations around the country to promote acceptance and inclusion. I also serve as director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Ala., an interpretive center designed to provide visitors to the Civil Rights Memorial with a deeper understanding of the civil rights movement.
Cher: The SPLC is currently fighting back on Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law, HB 56, saying this legislation is “a humanitarian crisis unfolding.” Please discuss the aspect of racial profiling and how it impacts immigrant families.
Lecia: HB56 empowers law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of individuals, which subject residents of Alabama – including countless U.S. citizens and non-citizens with permission to be in the United States – to racial profiling as well as unlawful interrogations, searches, seizures and arrests that violate the Fourth Amendment.
This law has devastated the immigrant community in Alabama. Under the provisions that are currently in effect, undocumented persons are unable to interact with the government—in any way and for any purpose.
It has turned a significant class of people, effectively, into legal non-persons, subjecting them to a kind of legal exile. It has destroyed lives, ripped apart families, devastated communities, and left our economy in shatters.
Cher: Another aspect of HB 56 is the harsh impact on farmers and subsequently, consumers in Alabama. I read in the SPLC Report that Alabama’s economy stands to lose $40 million dollars per year under this legislation. Would you expound on this and the implications for the U.S. economy?
Lecia: This misguided law carries a huge price tag, which will be borne by taxpayers and consumers. While the state is grappling with a difficult economy and legislators are touting fiscal responsibility, the law will add substantial new costs for law enforcement agencies – costs that have nothing to do with protecting Alabama residents from crime. Plus, it allows citizens to sue agencies they believe are not adequately enforcing the law, potentially leading to millions more in litigation costs.
There are other costs as well. Farmers, small businesses and consumers will bear the brunt. Labor shortages caused by Georgia’s recently enacted anti-immigrant law are expected to cost that state’s agriculture industry $300 million. Alabama industries dependent on immigrant labor will likely suffer the same fate. Millions more in tax revenue will be lost. According to the Center for American Progress, if the whole undocumented population alone stopped working, tax revenue losses would reach over $130 million per year.
Additionally, Alabama businesses will lose sales as immigrants – undocumented or not – decide to leave rather than face the prospect of racial profiling and harassment. Economic development efforts, which in recent years have lured foreign businesses and thousands of jobs to Alabama, will also be stunted as the state’s past reputation for racial intolerance is revived across the country.
Cher: Has the SPLC learned of a rise in Hate crimes since HB 56 was implemented in Alabama, and is there an adequate way to track Hate crimes against immigrants?
Lecia: The latest FBI statistics, released in November, showed a rise of almost 11% in anti-Latino hate crimes in 2010. Earlier, anti-Latino hate crimes rose some 40% between 2003 and 2007 then diminished in 2008 and 2009. We have attributed the rise to the demonization of Latino immigrants over the past decade by politicians, pundits and nativist extremists. Anti-immigrant rhetoric has been shown to produce an increase in hate crimes against Latinos; with state-sanctioned anti-immigrant laws the trend will likely continue.
Cher: How many other states have Bills similar to HB 56, either implemented or pending?
Lecia: Six – Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana, and Utah.
Federal courts have already blocked key provisions of these laws in Arizona, Indiana and Georgia. A federal court in Alabama allowed some parts of the law to take effect, which continue to lead to devastating humanitarian consequences. Other provisions of the Alabama law have been blocked by the courts. Members of a civil rights coalition also have a pending case against Utah’s anti-immigrant law, which the court temporarily blocked pending a hearing scheduled for February.
Cher: Thank you, Lecia, for your informative answers and for your initiatives within the SPLC.
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