The “Birmingham campaign” to end segregation and other forms of discrimination garnered international attention in 1963 when the city’s infamous Commissioner of Public Safety “Bull” Connor unleashed police dogs and fire hoses on black children engaging in peaceful protest. Those images, captured on television, created a horrifying portrait of the American South and triggered national outrage over the plight of African Americans under Jim Crow segregation.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful protests eventually broke the back of segregation in Alabama. But now a new breed of state-sanctioned discrimination has surfaced with the implementation of Alabama’s harsh anti-immigration law, H.B. 56, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.
H.B. 56 is the most recent—and most extreme—in a wave of anti-immigration laws conservative state legislatures have passed and conservative governors have signed into law. Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) put his pen to H.B. 56 on June 9, 2011.
H.B. 56’s sponsors argue that the law is designed to make every aspect of life unbearably difficult for undocumented immigrants living in Alabama. So it should come as no surprise that when U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn rejected an array of legal challenges mounted against the law and allowed a number of the most extreme provisions to go into effect on September 28, it triggered an urgent moral and humanitarian crisis. Thousands of kids failed to show up for school and thousands more have called in to the emergency hotlines established to help people affected by the law.
The law deploys fear as a weapon to marginalize and oppress an unwanted population—just as segregationist policies did 50 years ago. Although it is ostensibly designed to drive “illegal” immigrants out of the state, the law has made the state deeply inhospitable to all immigrants. As U.W. Clemon, Alabama’s first black federal judge, recently put it, in Alabama, “the Hispanic man is the new Negro…It’s a sad thing to say.”
Learn more about the law from all sides, taking a look at the status of legal challenges, the fear it’s breeding, the anti-immigration activism behind it and similar laws, and the electoral harm it’s likely to inflict on its conservative backers.