Civil rights déjà vu for Birmingham in immigrant rights struggle

By Khalil Abdullah, New America Media.  Crossposted from Facing South.   At a tender age, Victor Palafox would revel in the brief daily reunions with his father, but he recalls growing angry with himself for falling asleep. That happened often, while he waited the senior Palafox to return home from working shifts of 12 hours or more in Mexico City.

One day the youthful Palafox's anger gave way to fear as he watched his father pack a few belongings and "a bit of money," as he prepared to cross the border into the United States to risk securing a better economic future. "I was young, but I knew that might be the last time I ever saw him," he said.

The family was reunited years later in America and eventually prospered. Like many immigrants, documented or not, Palafox (in photo), now 19, calls the U.S. "my country." He adds, "I fell in love with the South."

Meanest, Toughest Immigration Law

That love is no longer perceived as mutual, not in Alabama at least, and most certainly not among families who face stark choices as a result of HB 56. Enacted in June, the law is deemed to be the most restrictive state legislation targeting undocumented immigrants.

"We brag about Alabama having the meanest and toughest immigration law in the country," said Bernard Simelton, Sr., president, NAACP Alabama State Conference. He pledged his organization would "challenge the law in the courts and the streets and at the ballot box."

Palafox and Simelton joined other panelists from the region's ethnic media to recount the city's rich civil rights history and the impact of HB 56 on the daily lives of residents. The symposium, held earlier in November, explored how diverse media outlets could best educate the state's population.

Hosted by New America Media at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the gathering included representatives of Birmingham-area news organizations from African American, Chinese, Latino and South Asian communities, as well as other local media and guests from as far as Mobile on the Gulf Coast.

Palafox spoke on behalf of Alabama Dreamers for the Future, a multiethnic, youth-led organization formed earlier this year to promote enlightened immigration policies and oppose the bill.

He and other panelists described witnessing immigrants packing their belongings to leave the state after Republican Gov. Robert Bentley signed the law. The GOP's majority in both houses of Alabama's legislature drafted and passed HB 56.

However, because undocumented people may reside in households with relatives holding American citizenship, "We have U.S. citizens that we are driving out of our state," said Rev. Angie Wright, of Greater Birmingham Ministries.

Wright posed the dilemma facing families with mixed legal status among their members, who are forced to ask themselves, "Do we leave? Do we leave together? Do we stay?"

Read the rest of the article on Facing South.