Latinos Abandon Alabama Homes, Classrooms, Churches After HB 56

One Bishop says that families are fleeing the state overnight to escape the country's harshest immigration enforcement law.

By Jorge Rivas Oct 05, 2011

Latinos have continued to leave Alabama in large numbers since a federal judge in the state upheld most provision of HB 56, the country’s toughest immigration enforcement law.

Sharon Lovelace Blackburn upheld the parts of the law allowing state and local police to ask for immigration papers during routine traffic stops. Most contracts with undocumented immigrants are now legally unenforceable and public schools are required to flag students who cannot provide a birth certificate during enrollment. The judge threw out Article 13, a provision of the law that would have outlawed transporting, feeding and housing undocumented people.

Schools are seeing a sharp drop in Latino students attendance. Statewide, 1,988 Latino students were absent on Friday, about 5 percent of the entire Latino population of the school system, according to the New York Times.

"Children being pulled out of school by their parents and are disappearing in middle of the night," said Alabama Bishop Will Willimon in an interview with spanish-talk-show radio host Fernando Espuelas. (Even though his show is syndicated across the country to Spanish radio stations, yesterday he had entire segments in English, including the one mentioned here.)

Bishop Willimon is one of the clergy members who filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama specifically because Article 13 would have undermined the work many churches do. He says Judge Blackburn’s decision to throw out Article 13 is a victory, but "we’re still left with a law that detrimentally impacts our schools, law enforcement, we’re just daily hearing reports of people having to shut down their businesses and leaving fields unharvested."

Churches across the state have also seen a drop in Latino parishioners who fear being detained on their way to church, Bishop Willimon said.

There have also been reports of homes that have been fully paid for left behind because families disappear in the middle of the night, when families feel safe traveling, according to Bishop Willimon. They just leave keys with neighbors and hope for the best.

An article published Tuesday morning by the New York Times echoed many of the Bishop’s comments, they say HB56 has left even documented Latinos with legal status in the U.S. in fear because many of them are part of families with mixed status.

Critics of the law, particularly farmers, contractors and home builders, say the measure has already been devastating, leaving rotting crops in fields and critical shortages of labor. They say that even fully documented Hispanic workers are leaving, an assessment that seems to be borne out in interviews here. The legal status of family members is often mixed — children are often American-born citizens — but the decision whether to stay rests on the weakest link.