Ten Congressional Democrats will travel to Birmingham, Alabama, on November 21 to hold a public hearing on the state’s controversial immigration law, HB56.
The cohort will be led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, Chairman of the Immigration Task Force and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Speaking at a November 18 press conference, he said he was inspired to organize the trip after visiting Alabama in October.
“In other states we have seen anti-immigration bills pass, but in Alabama it has triggered something unique,” Gutierrez said. “The fear and chaos in a small, not very well established Latino and immigrant community has run deeper. The feeling of danger and despair is palpable, perhaps owing to Alabama’s history of dogs and water cannons and bombings and worse.”
Gutierrez’s allusions to the violent civil rights struggle in Alabama during the 1960s will also resonate during the lawmakers’ upcoming visit. After a 3 p.m. hearing in the chambers of the Birmingham City Council, the group will attend a rally at the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was the site of a 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing that killed four girls.
Reporting on the impending visit, the Birmingham News described Gutierrez as “the leading congressional critic of Alabama’s immigration law as a recipe for racial profiling and a throwback to Alabama’s history of discrimination against minorities.”
After HB 56 was signed into law in June, the U.S. Department of Justice sued to block some of its provisions from taking effect. At the end of September, a federal judge ruled that most aspects of the law could be enforced. Among its provisions, the law requires schools to ascertain the citizenship status of students and mandates that businesses ensure that only U.S. citizens or immigrants with a work permit are hired.
At a November 15 protest of HB 56 in Montgomery, 13 people who said they are undocumented immigrants were arrested. They were subsequently released, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency stated it has not pursued detainers against any of them.