Civil and immigrant rights advocates have made good on their promises to engage big business over Alabama’s HB 56, the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant state law. And they’re following them across the world to do so. A delegation of U.S.-based advocates presented at Hyundai’s annual shareholder meeting in Seoul this week to get the company to speak out about HB 56.
In recent months, a coalition of immigrant rights groups has sent letters to foreign companies with manufacturing sites in Alabama to invite them to pressure lawmakers to repeal HB 56. So far, Hyundai’s made no move either way.
The Korean automaker’s business amounts to two percent of Alabama’s GDP, said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Together with Daimler AG and Honda, the automakers’ investments in Alabama amount to 45,000 jobs and $4.8 billion in wages, Henderson said.
“While we’re working to repeal HB 56, we hope that Hyundai, Daimler and Honda will engage leaders in thoughtful conversation about taking steps to repeal this law,” said Henderson.
“The only moral act for a company of Hyundai’s size and influence,” Henderson said, is to speak out about the “human rights disaster” that Alabama’s HB 56 has left in its wake.
Advocates also hope to appeal to Hyundai’s basic business interests. Eliseo Medina, international secretary-treasurer for the labor union SEIU, said that Hyundai is banking its expansion in the U.S. on the growing Latino market with cultural-specific ad campaigns, yet, the brand’s continued association with HB 56 will harm the company’s reputation.
“Latinos are waiting to see whether Hyundai will stand with us or with the human rights violators in Alabama.”
Alabama’s HB 56, which became law last year, was modeled on Arizona’s SB 1070, yet went several steps further. Like SB 1070, HB 56 required that police officers question and detain anyone they suspected might be undocumented. HB 56 also required schools to track the immigration statuses of their students, and criminalized nearly every aspect of life for undocumented immigrants. Many portions of the law have been blocked while courts consider the constitutionality of the law. But the fight over HB 56 is far from over.
“At the airport on my way to Korea, I saw families, coming and leaving their countries. As an immigrant I know that immigration is about making hard choices to stick together,” said Dae Joong Yoon, a board member of the immigrant rights group, the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium.
“Our community is largely an immigrant community,” Yoon said, adding that one in five Korean Americans is undocumented. “I believe Hyundai can do much more to stand for human rights and civil rights for all.”
He said in unequivocal terms: “[HB 56] is a hate-driven law taking away the fundamental rights of immigrants and forcing our children to cry and live in fear.”
Advocates say they plan to head to Daimler’s headquarters in Berlin and Honda’s Tokyo offices for their shareholder meetings to make their case in those cities as well.