Ten undocumented immigrants who were arrested last November for taking part in a civil disobedience action in Alabama to protest the state’s anti-immigrant state law, HB 56, were sentenced yesterday. They pleaded guilty to third-degree disorderly conduct charges, and received suspended five-day jail sentences were fined $50 each and $217 in court costs.
For undocumented immigrant youth activists, engaging in civil disobedience to demand the DREAM Act or to raise awareness about anti-immigrant laws—and then getting arrested for it—is something of a rite of passage. DREAMers get arrested all the time. Their parents, however, are less likely to take part in such bold actions. That is, until Alabama’s HB 56 came along.
The restrictive anti-immigrant law was modeled on Arizona’s SB 1070; HB 56 allowed police officers to stop and question anyone they believed might be undocumented. But Alabama went several steps further, by demanding that schools track the immigration statuses of their students and criminalizing nearly every aspect of daily life for immigrants.
Thirteen activists in all were arrested on November 15 for blocking traffic in the state’s capitol—Martin Unzueta, Belen Rebelledo, Alma Diaz, Jaime Guzman, Catalina Rios, Ernesto Zumaya, Myasha Arellano, Krsna Avila, Fernanda Marroquin, Cesar Marroquin and Cynthia Perez. Two were charged earlier and one minor was released to her parents.
It was the harshness of the law that compelled immigrant activists to both be more aggressive in their tactics, and then to plead guilty to their charges after they were arrested.
“In previous [civil disobedience] cases, the thinking was that we should get rid of the charges as quickly as possible, but this time around, just like in the civil rights era, everyone knew what they were doing and it was very intentional,” Mohammad Abdollahi, an organizer with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, which organized the action, said. “They plead guilty because they said, ‘We did this on purpose; it was an unjust law and we’d do it again.’”