Department of Justice officials including Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, attended a forum Thursday night hosted by the NAACP in Birmingham, Ala., to discuss the state of affairs for Latinos after the anti-immigrant H.B. 56 was signed in to law.
Latinos have continued to leave Alabama in large numbers since a federal judge in the state upheld most provisions of H.B. 56, the country’s toughest immigration-enforcement law. The law allows state and local police to ask people they suspect of being undocumented for immigration papers during any interaction, including routine traffic stops. Critics say that in doing so, it legalizes racial profiling. The law also makes most contracts with undocumented immigrants legally unenforceable and public schools are now required to flag students who cannot provide a birth certificate at the time of enrollment.
Perez and a handful of department staffers and attorneys attended the NAACP forum in Birmingham to listen to concerns and reports of discrimination from Latinos and their advocates in the state. Perez’s team assured attendees they’re being heard, according to the Huffington Post.
Some immigrants said they were unsure how to get to work, because renewing their license plates would now require them to show immigration papers, and any traffic stop could now lead to an officer detecting them as undocumented. Others said they feared sending their children to school, now that public schools might ask their children about their legal status. Some asked whether they should flee the state, leaving their jobs and homes behind.
One man questioned why Alabama legislators would pass such a law, wondering aloud whether it meant Latinos and other immigrants are unwelcome in the state.
"Can anyone tell me the motives behind this law?" he said, according to someone in the room. "We like it here, and we just don’t understand why they don’t like us."
For the most part, DOJ officials simply listened, taking notes on the concerns raised. They stuck around after the meeting to talk to community members directly, and plan to meet with more on Friday.
The department announced a toll-free phone number and email address for people who live in Alabama to report abuses of the law and ask questions. To reach the Justice Department, call 855-353-1810 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Friday, DOJ officials are will look at how the law is impacting school children and are reportedly meeting with a 19-year-old DREAMer named Victor Palafox, who has been living in Birmingham without papers for 14 years.