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Human rights group gets it partly right on Alabama law

Felicia Persaud | 12/21/2011, 6:56 p.m.
International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) is the latest organization to slam the Jim...
Letter No. 30: Immigration reform now!

International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) is the latest organization to slam the Jim Crow-like Alabama immigration law, and rightfully so. But like the U.S. Justice Department, HRW seems to be afraid to call the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer Citizen and Protection Act, or HB 56, for what it really is: racial profiling at its worst.

There is no denying that the law constitutionally violates the civil rights of any minority and immigrant national in the United States, legal or illegal.

HRW should say so. However, I do agree with the organization's call for a repeal of HB 56, as was done in a 52-page report issued Dec. 13, entitled, "No Way to Live: Alabama's Immigrant Law."

The group argues correctly that Alabama's new immigrant act denies unauthorized immigrants and their families, including U.S. citizen children, their basic rights and threatens their access to everyday necessities and equal protection of the law.

Under the Beason-Hammon Act, unauthorized immigrants are prohibited from entering into "business transactions" with the state. An unauthorized immigrant who tries to do so is committing a Class C felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.

As a result, state and local agencies have declared that unauthorized immigrants cannot sign up for water and other utilities, live in the mobile homes they own or renew licenses for their own small businesses.

"Many of the unauthorized immigrants we met and their families are deeply attached to the state," said Grace Meng, researcher for the U.S. Program at HRW and author of the report. "Their children are obviously affected, but we also met a teacher who fought back tears as she described her students' fears, a minister who lost 75 percent of his congregation and a Latino permanent resident who was stopped by a state trooper for no reason except ethnicity."

The group agrees with advocates that the law infringes on the rights of children and potentially thousands of minority citizens and legal residents. They claim that everyone is entitled to fundamental human rights by virtue of their humanity.

Most of the unauthorized immigrants HRW interviewed have lived in the United States for at least 10 years, and many have U.S. citizen children.

"Over and over in Alabama, we heard immigrants assert their humanity and declare, 'Legal or illegal, I'm human,'" Meng said. "Alabama should recognize the humanity and fundamental rights of all the state's residents and immediately repeal the Beason-Hammon Act."

It's also time to address the Jim Crow-like aspect of this law and not be afraid to call a spade a spade. It is undoubtedly racism at its worst and should urgently be slapped down.

The U.S. Supreme Court should agree to hear arguments against immigration laws instituted randomly by any state, not simply the Arizona law; such copycat rules are starting to wreak havoc on our very humane society.

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.