Last week I was voluntarily asked to represent the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) in a Labor rally at Linn’s park by my good friend and now ACIJ Executive Director Ingrid Chapman. Of course I said yes because most of the time it is really hard for me to say “no”. For a whole day I was really panicking on what to say, or how to say it in order to represent the Coalition in the best way possible. I think I told Ingrid that I was going to use my preaching skills to put together something. The more I though about it the less inspiration I had, until something clicked in my mind while remembering the stories of the people I have met here in Alabama. I remembered the story of Mayra and where is she now after the day I met her back in November 2011. In a recent meeting about the direction of ACIJ with the immigration reform, when the question was asked if the Coalition was going to continue its support to this bill; Mayra, with tears coming out, said: “I have been waiting for this for almost 17 years, this is my opportunity”. Her words inspired me to write my speech for the press conference, and this is what I wrote:
When I am asked why did I move to Alabama? I always answer this:
Alabama is the front line of immigrant’s rights, voters’ rights, LGTBQ rights, and workers rights. This is a place to be if you want to be a soldier for social justice.
The American farm worker and labor leader César Chavez said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
We need to start looking the issue of immigration reform not only as a legal issue but also as a people’s stories. We are talking about families on here, about fathers, mothers, and children. We are talking about dreams, and hopes. We are talking about hard working workers who are sustaining our economy, if we want to believe this or not want, the fact is that the undocumented migrants are giving more to our country that what they are taking away.
Being an undocumented worker in a red state, specially here in Alabama where one of the worst anti-immigrant laws was borne, means that fears reigns in their daily life, always wondering that may be this day could be the last day among their love ones, because they can be detained driving while brown. It means that Roberto a honor student in high school, who came into this country when he was 2 years old brought by his parents could be detained as well for not having a drivers license, and send to a detention center handcuffed as a criminal instead of just giving him a ticket. It means that complete families are being diving daily because the Department of Homeland Security needs to fulfil the quota of 400,000 people to be deported a year. It means that abusive employers can steal your wages, and threat you to call immigration if you report them.
Recently Representative Spencer Bachus a Republican Congressman from Alabama said: “we have a 20 years old who has been here 18 years, doesn’t speak anything but English, has gone through Gardendale elementary, Gardendale middle school, Gardendale high school… and one day he gets arrested – and everybody says we need to send folks back – and suddenly the football coach at Pelham is callin’ his Congressman! And says … this young man on my team just got apprehended down in Pelham and then the Principal calls, and his Pastor calls, and the dad is a US citizen…and that’s why I say look, secure the border, cut it off…but then take the families that have been here, you can’t undivide these families, you can’t unscramble the egg. “
Now the house of representative want to duplicated what has been happening in Arizona, and Alabama and make it national. Give every local government the power to make their states a place of fear, mistrust; creating an environment where ignorant people can share their hate, and create an unsafe place for our migrant brothers and sisters. The SAFE Act—The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act—will give the local police the power to ask for your papers. The Huff Post Politics said in an article “The SAFE Act will force the federal government to compensate local and state governments for the costs of detention and diverting law enforcement resources toward enforcing federal immigration laws. Local police should not be conscripted into enforcing federal immigration laws.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-nowrasteh/safe-act-an-expensive-boo_b_3719047.html)
SB1070 in Arizona, and HB56 in Alabama are examples of the anti-immigrant narrative we keep hearing in this country. They are sold as laws that will help our economy, but in reality they are hurting us. We are known, not for being a welcoming state.
This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement, and we found ourselves again discriminating against the one who are considered people of color.
We are talking about families, about people.
“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
Note: I am thankful with the many “Mayras” out there who are still fighting to be recognized as citizen in this country. Your stories, tears, laughs, and life have inspired me to keep doing what I am doing. Thanks for never give up, and thanks for teaching me so many good things about perseverance, and the resilience of the human being.