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UPDATED: Alabama Won't Be More Like Indiana - HB-56 MIGHT Be Dead

by: countrycat

Sat Apr 11, 2015 at 11:08:25 AM CDT

State Representative Patricia Todd announced yesterday on Facebook that Alabama's collection of state-sanctioned discrimination (aka religious "freedom") bills are effectively dead this session. The reason? "Business leaders have expressed concern..."

UPDATE: Don't look away from this issue for even a minute. In spite of Hubbard's assurances, as of 2pm, 4/11, the bill is scheduled for a Health subcommittee hearing on Wednesday 4/15 at noon.  (screen shot at the bottom of this article).  Hat tip to our legislative reporter, Mia! 

Alabama legislature bottom of the barrel 

The Speaker and the Senate leadership have agreed that they will NOT pass a Indiana style bill in Alabama. This is a huge victory for us. Alabama has traditionally passed legislation like this circulating around the states.

Business leaders have expressed concern about passing the discrimination bills. Our allies are growing, even among groups that have opposed us in the past.

I am proud they are taking the high road to deal with the real issues we face. This is proof that we can make a difference so keep it up!

In Alabama, progressives gratefully accept whatever victories we can eke out, and it's great to have business on our side for once. Still, I wish I felt as confident as Rep. Todd does about this about face. Hubbard has made promises before (like in 2014) and broken them:

The party who promised a legislative agenda consisting of God, guns, & girl parts, added another "G" to the list in an unexpected vote yesterday.  After privately promising Alabama's only openly gay legislator that he wouldn't allow the a bill calling for a constitutional convention to ban marriage equality in the US to come up, well..... surprise! Speaker Mike Hubbard lied.

Kudos to the business community for fighting "anti-business" discriminatory legislation. Those who still argue that the bill is about "religious freedom, " not discrimination would do well to read the liveblogging recap of the House debate.

But let's not breathe a sigh of relief yet: next up on the plate of bad legislation is HB-405, the "fetal heartbeat bill," which died last year on the last day of the legislative session.

If they aren't coming for the gays, it gives them plenty of time to go after the gals. 

UPDATE:  Is it or isn't it dead?


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AL Legislators' "Religious Freedom" Bills Could End State's "Business Friendly" Reputation

by: countrycat

Fri Mar 27, 2015 at 10:38:33 AM CDT

Four years ago, Alabama legislators declared that "Alabama is open for business!" And yet, during this 2015 session, they seem determined to roll up the welcome mat. Judge Granade's marriage equality ruling has so unhinged many legislators that they're rushing to pass bills that legalize discrimination. 

You see, apparently Alabama Christian business owners are such tender flowers that they simply cannot associate with - much less accept money from - any person or family engaged in any activity that the Christian doesn't "believe in."  They're so easily upset and befuddled that our friendly old "Big Government" has to step in and protect them from the menace of gay families and single women looking to get their birth control prescriptions refilled.


What's wrong with these people? From marriage to adoption to child care and more, the legislature this session seems hell bent of making life so miserable for GLBT families in the state that they (to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney) "self-deport." For example:

  • HB-56 (which conveniently shares the same bill number as the 2011 anti-immigration bill) allows Alabama Probate Judges & public officials to refuse to officiate at any wedding they find religiously objectionable. It's aimed at "the gays," but could snare interfaith couples, inter-racial couples, and others.
  • HB-296 protects child care providers from having to keep children of same-sex couples or for any other reason that "violates their religious beliefs." It covers all providers - even those who contract with the state to provide services.
  • SB-261 will allow all adoption agencies in the state (even those with state contracts) to discriminate on the base of their agency's religious mission. Again, this is targeted at "the gays," but can also be used against couples of the "wrong" faith, no faith, "wrong" race, etc.
  • And forget about those "public accommodation" rights that were won during the Civil Rights movement.  "Johnston said legislation will probably be introduced this session to provide civil protections to florists, bakers and others who refuse to provide services at same-sex weddings."

The worst part? In most cases, it puts the state in the position of not only supporting discrimination, but using state money to pay for it.

Tech companies offering good-paying jobs for skilled labor simply aren't going to put up with this kind of nonsense.  In February, we warned that the anti-gay hysteria was going to hurt the state's industrial recruitment efforts, but that voice was lost in the catcalls directed at federal courts. 

Let's turn away from this States' Rights trainwreck and take a minute to remember how Alabama's most recent foray onto the world stage as a bad actor went. The entire world watched Alabama's mean-spiritedness on full display with the HB-56 anti-immigration bill. That battle was an $11 billion hit to the state's economy (PDF) for nothing: much of the law has been struck down by federal courts and the state spent $230k to pay plaintiff's legal fees.

What happened? We ran off part of the work force and, not surprisingly, there wasn't a long line of Alabama citizens hoping for exciting new careers in tomato harvesting. Local farmers suffered as did local businesses dependent on farm worker spending.

But now, perhaps our legislators will pay attention to the situation in a fellow "red state" to the north: Indiana.

Indiana is the first state this year to enact a measure that's being pushed in a dozen others, and Emmert's comments were just the latest in a series of stinging criticisms issued after Pence signed the bill in a private ceremony with Republican state legislators and socially conservative lobbyists Thursday morning.

Already, the gamer convention Gen Con and the Disciples of Christ church group had threatened to pull their conventions out of Indianapolis. Tech giant Salesforce said it would halt its plans to expand in the state, too.

The NCAA had hinted for days that the bill -- which has the effect of allowing businesses to challenge local laws that forbid discriminating against customers based on sexual orientation in court -- could damage the city's reputation as a host of major sporting events.

Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff is now doing more than making threats:

The chief executive of tech giant Salesforce told Pence that his company -- which had bought Indianapolis-based Exact Target for $2.5 billion in 2013 -- would abandon the state and its expansion plans there if he signed the measure into law."

Dear Alabama Legislators: you don't pass laws in a vacuum. What you do has consequences for the people who live in this state and for people/businesses who might consider relocating here.  Could you please, please do your real job of passing budgets, building roads, and supporting public education?  This fascination with individual people's private lives is more than a little creepy.  Not to mention an embarrassment for the entire state.


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Week Two Of The Alabama Legislature: God, Gays, Charter Schools, & Electric Chairs

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 15, 2015 at 08:00:00 AM CDT

The GOP supermajority staggered into Montgomery earlier this week for the second week of the 2015 session.  And what a week it was.  Here's a recap of some of the major hearings and floor debates. Because the legislative Web site is still not functioning well, the direct links to bill information don't always work.  Go to this page, click "Find the Status of a Bill" and enter the bill number.

Alabama legislature 2015 session 

HB-56, which the sponsor named the "Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act" passed the House 69-25 on Thursday after 4 hours of debate. Read why that's a big surprise here.

HB-18 - The "Bring Back the Electric Chair" bill also passed the House (76-26) after a spirited debate on Wednesday. The reinstates the electric chair as a method of execution if the proper lethal injection drugs aren't available. There was also debate about ways to keep the source of lethal injection drugs secret.  Nothing like the GOP's commitment to transparent government, eh?

All Democrats voted NO except:

  • George Bandy (HD-83) - Present 
  • Craig Ford (HD-28) - Yes
  • Thomas Jackson (HD-68) - Present
  • Richard Lindsay (HD-39) - Yes
  • A.J. McCampbell (HD-71) - Yes
  • Johnny Mack Morrow (HD-18) - Present

Some highlights from Mia's liveblogging:

The House floor just erupted in boos and yells over the HB18 bill, bringing back the electric chair in Alabama.

They are debating whether compounding pharmacies that provide lethal injection drugs to the State should have to be kept secret or not.

Rep Bracy just tweeted that he will be voting against bringing back "Yellow Momma"

Rep. McCutcheon just asked Rep. Alvin Holmes which way he would prefer to die under the death penalty.

Rep. Alvin Holmes wants to submit an amendment to allow hanging, but Rep. McCutcheon is not favorable to hanging.

"Every year you are here you bring a death penalty bill. I've told you before, I think you have a death penalty fetish." - Rep. Givan

HB-1 - The "Alabama Student Religious Liberty Act."  Republicans promise that it will "re-establish the freedom of student-led prayer and religious expression in our schools" - in spite of the fact that everything that the bill makes legal is already legal.

It's one of the GOP supermajority's signature initiatives, which means this:

"...we're going to pass unnecessary laws to make stuff legal that's already legal, but we'll make it even more legal and distract the public from our real work of selling the state government to the highest bidder.

Democrats didn't acquit themselves well on this vote. About a third voted NO - and then we have these votes & non-votes:

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HB-56 Passed The Alabama House - With An Actual Floor Debate

by: countrycat

Sat Mar 14, 2015 at 14:04:46 PM CDT

If you think the title of this diary is no big deal, you haven't been paying much attention to the GOP supermajority's iron legislative fist. It's not unusual for bills to pass with almost no debate and discussion allowed. The super-majority has invoked cloture 121 times in the last 4 years.  Alabama Democrats used that power 26 times in the previous 11 years. (Cloture means shut down debate and force an up or down vote.


Yet this didn't happen with HB-56, which the sponsor named the "Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act."

The GOP has a supermajority and could have invoked cloture before the first House member finished speaking.  That's not uncommon: one bill last session got less than a minute of discussion before the majority invoked cloture. 

Bobby Singleton, an African American senator whose district includes some of the poorest counties in the state, remembers the shortest amount of time it took him to get cut off. “Thirty-two seconds,” he says ruefully.

Sadly, it's not surprising that the bill passed, but it is a bit of a shock that a real debate took place. Read the details of the debate from Mia's incredible liveblogging from the House gallery.

As you can see from her report, only ONE Republican spoke in favor - Rep. Mike Ball - while the rest of the GOP caucus let the bill's sponsor, Rep. Hill, act as a pinata for the bill's opponents.  Among other things, Hill admitted that he "couldn't remember" who wrote the bill for him or gave him the idea to introduce it.

It passed the House 69-25 on Thursday when the majority invoked cloture after 4 hours of debate - not 4 minutes. There are several explanations I can come up with:

  • Hill's fellow GOP House members don't like him very much.
  • Somehow they think having Democrats stand up and oppose discriminatory Republican legislation  is a good thing - for Republicans.
  • Rep. Patricia Todd receives real respect from both sides of the aisle. They knew how important and personal this was for her and they were willing to at least give the issue a hearing.

Obviously, I hope it's the last one, but the first works for me too.... LOL.

There were a few other surprises as well.

Most Democrats opposed the bill. One Democrat voted in favor - Elaine Beech (HD-65) - while a number voted "Present" instead:

  • Barbara Boyd (HD-32)
  • Juandalynne Givan (HD-68)
  • Ralph Howard (HD-72)
  • Thomason Jackson (HD-68)
  • Richard Lindsay (HD-39) -Abstained
  • Johnny Mack Morrow (HD-18)
  • Roderick Scott (HD-55)

While it's in no way remarkable that a bill protecting the right to discriminate was overwhelmingly popular among Alabama Republican legislators, one Democrat was a pleasant surprise: House minority leader Craig Ford (who hasn't always been a friend to the GLBT community) voted NO. This bill was so preposterous that he even took to the floor to castigate the GOP for wasting the Legislature's time.

"We're down here again legislating morality and we have a $700 million budget shortfall." - Rep. Ford

In fact, Ford was outraged enough to write an op/ed for Al.com:

It is disturbing to see some politicians attempt to use the Bible to justify what they know is morally and legally wrong. Discrimination is evil, no matter how you try to justify it. Yet here we are, 50 years after Bloody Sunday, and we are still fighting a battle over allowing businesses to discriminate.

The New York Times recently reported that 14 states are either considering, have considered or have voted on bills that would allow people, citing their religious beliefs, to refuse service to gay customers. These laws would allow religious beliefs to be the legal justification for refusing to rent an apartment to a lesbian couple, or refusing to serve a pizza to a group of gay men.

Now that sounds an awful lot like Jim Crow to me. Except this time, instead of discriminating against a person because of the color of their skin, some politicians are looking at a person's sexual orientation and deciding they are not worthy; deciding that because of whom they choose to love, they aren't allowed the same basic freedoms as heterosexuals.

These laws would also reinstitute profiling. After all, how else can a business owner determine that a person is homosexual? The only way to know for sure is through profiling or if a customer volunteers that information about themselves.

The bill is now headed to a Senate committee & eventual floor vote - possibly as early as next week. After that, the state will no doubt have yet another expensive little sit-down with the federal court system.


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HB-56 Today's Legislative Debate: Liveblogging Recap

by: countrycat

Thu Mar 12, 2015 at 13:34:08 PM CDT

Let's call this the "Rep. Jim Hill Goes To Goat Hill" debate. Unlike the famous "Mr. Smith" who went to Washington and behaved like a statesman, our own Jim Hill went to Montgomery and made a fool of himself during the debate on HB-56, his bigotry bill

That's a harsh characterization, yes, but it's an accurate description when the sponsor of a bill says during the debate that he "can't remember" who wrote the bill for him or whose idea it was.

Seriously? In spite of the sponsor's inability to explain just why the House needed to spend 4 hours debating a bill to address something that is not a problem in the state... the bill passed easily anyway with a vote of 69-25.

Here's a recap of the incredible liveblogging that LIA's new legislative reporter, Mia Raven, did on our Facebook page. The threads were wildly popular, but with scores of comments on each post, navigation was a challenge for some.  We thought a recap of the live action would make a better permanent record of who said & did what.

This is in close-to-chronological order with Mia's commentary only.  You can go to the Facebook thread itself to read everyone's comments.

The debate began with discussion about the BIR (Budget Isolation Resolution). That's a procedural motion to allow the House to take up legislation other than the budgets - which are supposed to be their first priority.  This was a constitutional amendment passed by a 3-to-1 margin almost 30 years ago. The legislature routinely ignores the amendment whenever they want to waste time on stupid bills.  Like this one.

Now... let's go to the debate!

Rep. Hill refuses to give a yes or no answer to if this bill would have a direct effect.

Rep. Coleman Evans: "I talked to ministers at home about the net effect and they said it does nothing different than what they have today."

 "This bill is simply about that some people are getting phone calls hoping they don't have to marry same sex
couples. I will say it over and over until my minutes are up." - Rep. Coleman Evans

"This bill is the cloak behind what some legislators want to say, we did this to stop same sex marriage. Make sure
the citizens of AL truly understand what we are voting on. This gentleman has done nothing to prevent same sex couples from getting married." - Rep. Coleman Evans

Rep. Ball is now questioning Rep. Hill.

"There are a lot of people that are overreacting." - Rep. Ball

"The opponents are making a mountain out of a molehill." - Rep. Ball

I believe that Rep. Ball is just trying to prolong the debate. He keeps repeating himself.

Rep. Hill is continuing with his "this only clarifies things" in regards to the bill.

"I think a lot of the debate winds up being with what not's in the bill." - Rep. Ball

Rep. Hill is a complete newbie to the Alabama Legislature and it shows. He is easily agitated and you can clearly tell he does not like to be questioned.


 "There will be pending legislation that will cost the state money we do not have. I beg you to abstain or vote no on the BIR." - Rep. Todd

Rep. Todd: "Who wrote this bill?" Jim Hill is fumbling the answer. It was so mumbled that I could not make out what he said.

Rep. Hill is being condescending in tone to Rep. Todd.

 Todd: "Were you ever forced to marry someone you didn't want to?" Hill: "No."

Rep. Todd is getting personal and she is starting to tear up.

"We're here because we want to condemn a population we don't like." - Rep. Todd

 Rep. Todd: "Isn't this bill about same sex marriage?" Rep. Hill: "No." Laughter erupts from the gallery.

Rep. Hill just admitted that he did NOT write the bill. He does not remember who wrote it!!

"We don't need to lead the nation in discriminatory practices...again." - Rep. Todd

 "When history looks back at this time, we will be on the wrong side of history, as much as we were in the civil rights movement." - Rep. Todd

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GOP Supermajority Costs State Another $230k - For Nothing

by: countrycat

Tue May 06, 2014 at 07:42:35 AM CDT

Thank you, Scott Beason.  So far, your signature anti-immigrant legislation, HB56, has stuck the whole state in Beason lines, hurt Alabama farmers, captured foreign auto executives, stained the state's reputation around the world, and cost real money that the state does not have:

Alabama has agreed to pay $230,000 in lawyer fees as part of a settlement of a lawsuit that stemmed from the state’s ill-fated, far-reaching immigration law, the Southern Poverty Law Center said today.

The state already agreed to pay $350,000 last year as part of the settlement in another immigration law case, bringing the two year payout total to $580,000 for plaintiffs' legal fees.

Today’s settlement is from a 2011 lawsuit filed by fair housing advocates and two individuals who were denied or facing denial of their mobile home registration tags, under a provision of HB 56, which the Alabama Legislature passed in 2011.

Since the official Republican line in 2011 was that the law had "no unintended consequences," I guess we can assume this is part of the supermajority's job creation plan - for lawyers.


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"Nuns on the Bus" Say: "Alabama, We're Counting On You!" For Immigration Reform

by: countrycat

Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 11:09:55 AM CDT

Tuesday night's crowd at the Nuns on the Bus Civil Rights forum was so large that the event had to be moved outside.  The 150+ people in attendance didn't mind.  We had come to hear from a courageous group of women who amazingly found themselves fighting with their own Church hierarchy on the issues of poverty, immigration, and social justice.Raise your hands raise for your voices for immigration reform

NETWORK Executive Director Sister Simone Campbell was the first speaker and she described how the first "Nuns on the Bus" tour came together last year.  The group had been lobbying against the "Paul Ryan Budget" that cut services for the poor, children, and elderly while giving tax cuts to the rich.  Unfortunately, she observed, the 40 year old advocacy group wasn't getting much assistance from the Church leaders.  So they turned to other faith communities and secular social advocacy groups.

Out of that meeting, on May 14th, 2012, the first "Nuns on the Bus" tour was planned.

Now, Sr. Simone continued, they're doing it again this year because we can't miss the opportunity: immigration reform is for the 100%.  The strategy is to "stand with bold Republicans" and encourage other Republicans to find the courage to stand with them, reminding them that "welcoming the stranger" is a tenet of faith in all religions.

Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, a lobbyist for NETWORK, spoke next and emphasized the history that brought us to this point, concluding with a call for action: "This is our time!  Not a time for sympathy, but a time to act!"

Other speakers described the issue of immigration in quite personal terms, describing their own experiences as immigrants and those of their family members.

Father Thomas Ackerman, a priest in Birmingham who works with Hispanic outreach, urged the crowd to remember:  "We are a better country because we are a country of immigrants."  He advised that the best way to discuss this issue with others is to put it in personal terms.  This is an issue that affects families, splits families, and causes huge amounts of uncertainty and suffering.  Tell those stories, he said.

Sr. Simone concluded the forum by stressing just how urgent the situation is and how we have only a limited amount of time to act.

"We want to raise a healthy tsunami of people to speak out and take action.  We have a very narrow time to get this done.  It will be on the floor of the Senate on Monday and we need a big bi-partisan vote coming out of the Senate to put pressure on the House to act."

She said she still has hopes of getting Senator Shelby's vote.  Sessions?  not so much...  But we can't give up:  "Welcoming the stranger is the glory of our past and hope for our future.  Alabama, we're counting on you!"

Learn more about NETWORK at their Web site and follow the Nuns on the Bus tour progress across the country on Facebook.

Finally, kudos to Alabama State Senator Linda Coleman who attended the event and who mingled with the crowd, speaking for a while with Sr. Simone after the forum.

Video clips are on the flip, along with some photos of the event.


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Alabama's HB56 & The GOP's New Interest In The Hispanic/Latino Vote

by: countrycat

Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 08:23:38 AM CST

Taking a cue from their failed presidential nominee, the GOP establishment has decided to abruptly pivot on an important issue.  The party that cheered for "empty the clip,"show me your papers," & "self deportation" has now seen the demographic handwriting on the wall.  They want to "deal with immigration" and take the issue off the table in future elections.

That long, low howl of protest you hear is undoubtedly coming from Scott Beason.

Writing for Forbes, Rick Ungar cites these poll results:

...Obama carried the Latino vote by a 75-23 margin—more than the roughly 70-30 split indicated by the exit polls—with voter turnout in the demographic totaling a full 10 percent of the total vote.

According to Stanford University’s Gary Segura, the professor who conducted the poll, the Latino vote delivered 5.4 percent of President Obama’s vote total, considerably more than Obama’s final lead over his challenger in the popular vote.

And so now, the GOP flip-flopping is a breathtaking spectacle that would make Romney proud.  Sean Hannity led off with the announcement that he had "evolved" on the issue.  Evolution?  Oh my....

Radio and television hotspur Sean Hannity — who for years has spit the word “amnesty” like an epithet — declared Thursday that he has “evolved” and now supports creating a “pathway” to citizenship for those already in the country illegally.
The Fox star put his animus toward the issue on display again and again. [...] He listened politely as right-wing virago Michelle Malkin suggested that Democrats wanted amnesty so they could “recruit more illegal aliens, so they can turn them into Democratic voters.”

But this sudden interest in a more moderate approach to immigration will face a good deal of pushback from the GOP base.  They're already grumbling about it on right wing blogs like Redstate.  For example:

The Tea Party tried working WITHIN the Republican party, it is time to go rogue and LEAVE THE REPUBLICAN PARTY in the DUST. THEY ARE THE Minority, not us. IT is time for MASSIVE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.


To those who preach moderation I say: look at the vibrant GOP in the Northeast part of the nation (and now California). Have you noticed moderate Scott Brown, incumbent, lost to the 1/32 Cherokee? Have you noticed that "the most electable" moderate Mitt Romney just got his (and our) butts whumped -- in an election that should have been a cake-walk for us?

We're not sure how this fight will play out, but one thing is certain.  It will be delicious to watch:

“We’re going back to the party of Shogun-type dynasties, where the Tea Party has their coalition, and the moderates have their coalition, and it’s going to be a battle to see who comes out on top,” said Luis ­Alvarado, a Republican strategist in Los Angeles with expertise on Latino voting patterns.

And how will the Alabama GOP react if/when the national party abandons its "self deportation" stance?  I can't wait to find out.


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A Conversation About Alabama's Immigration Law

by: mooncat

Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 08:34:24 AM CDT

It's time to get past the name calling and get serious about reasonable immigration reform.

To that end, you don't want to miss "An Evening with Jose Antonio Vargas" at UAB Hill Center Alumni Auditorium on Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 7 until 9 p.m. The (free) event features a conversation with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas -- who is himself an undocumented immigrant -- about Alabama's immigration law and national immigration policy. 

"I don't think we're having a conversation about human beings," Vargas said. "I think for the most part, we're having a lot of name calling, there's a lot of 'You're illegal, you're breaking the law, get out of here.'" 

It's time to stop using immigration as a tool to gin up votes in election years and start working toward a reasonable, workable solution to this multi-faceted problem.

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Scott Beason's Signature Legislation Brings In A Whole New Set of Immigrants

by: countrycat

Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

African refugees relocate to Alabama to fill jobs after immigration law scared off Hispanic/Latino workers.  Remember the GOP's brash assertion that Alabama citizens would line up after HB-56 took effect?  No, he wasn't talking about the Beason lines... he meant "line up" to fill all those jobs that the "illegals" were taking.

As so often happens when Senator Beason opens his mouth, he had no idea what he was talking about.  As Bloomberg reports:

Republican state Senator Scott Beason, a sponsor, said at a news conference last year that the restrictions on undocumented workers would “put thousands of native Alabamians back in the work force.”

Instead, it caused a labor shortage that resulted in the importation of hundreds of legal African and Haitian refugees, and Puerto Ricans, according to interviews with workers, advocacy organizations and businesses. Most were recruited by the poultry industry, in a segment of the economy that has been a heavy employer of undocumented workers, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington research group.
Wayne Farms found Eritreans, displaced by war and conflict, and other Africans through East Coast Labor Solutions LLC, a Fairlea, West Virginia-based labor broker. East Coast has about 200 workers in Alabama, owner Ray Wiley said in an interview.

Most of these worker have landed in Albertville and I, for one, certainly hope that some of the African workers stay to open restaurants because Eritrean food is awesome!

But this article should raise a BIG red flag: these workers are being provided by "labor brokers" and the last time those guys were in the news, they were employing hapless "guest workers" in near sweatshop conditions in Huntsville at the Cinram DVD facility.

The workers are employed by Ambassador staffing agency. Ambassador distributed workers, upon arrival, among 20 local landlords. Circumstances varied greatly, but some workers reported paying as much as $300 per person per month to share a small, furnished apartment with three or more roommates.

In one case in November, The Times found four Jamaican women who paid a combined $1,200 a month for an apartment with busted plumbing and no heat that had rented for $450. 

In February, the Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama, a nonprofit agency based in Birmingham, and the NAACP began questioning housing for foreign workers in Huntsville.

Landlords "were charging some of the people $300 per bed," in "roach-infested" apartments, Jerry Burnet, chair of the state housing committee for the NAACP, told The Times last month. "They've got a little small bed, like you have in a barracks, and they were putting three in each room."

Wormsby said HUD opened the formal investigation after receiving the complaints gathered by the NAACP and the Fair Housing Center.

At the same time, Cinram was scarfing up tax breaks for its low-wage labor scheme.

Remember though... compared to Gov. Mitt Romney's little paen to Chinese slave labor working conditions, Cinram was a real "worker's paradise."  From his now-famous Q&A to wealthy supporters last Spring:

And they work in these huge factories, they made various uh, small appliances. And uh, as we were walking through this facility, seeing them work, the number of hours they worked per day, the pittance they earned, living in dormitories with uh, with little bathrooms at the end of maybe 10, 10 room, rooms. And the rooms they have 12 girls per room. 

These types of working conditions are a feature, not a bug in the Republican plan for working Americans.

So I'd suggest that we give Senator Beason a nice little Bronx cheer for yet another of his "unintended consequences" to the immigration bill.  He's managed to exchange one set of low wage workers who have little or no leverage or ability to demand fair wages & safe working conditions with another set.  And yet... maybe it wasn't "unintended" after all!

Labor brokers have a shady reputation all over the world, from South Africa, to New Zealand, to Canada, and yes... in the US.  Global Research studied the plight of these mobile, temporary workers and the description sounds depressingly familiar:

On top of low wages, no benefits, and no legal right to unionize, these workers face the constant threat of deportation if they speak out against their employer. It is within this context that we must understand the crash that six months ago killed 11 farm workers, including 9 migrants from Peru, near the Canadian town of Waterloo. Since the accident there has been no government investigation into the transportation and living conditions of migrant farm workers in Canada and fleeting media coverage. Like South Africa, migrant farm workers in Canada live in isolated rural areas, often housed directly on the farms, where they often experience severe discrimination and racism.

Don't get me wrong: I'm thrilled that some of these refugees have a chance at building a better life in a stable community with a decent job.  But we need to be vigilant and make sure that's actually the case.  Because past history has shown us clearly that these desperate people are willing to accept low wages, terrible working conditions, and are ripe for exploitation.

Anybody want to explain how this is an improvement?


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HB-56 Immigration Bill May Have Contributed To Alabama's Budget Shortfall

by: countrycat

Fri Sep 21, 2012 at 11:30:00 AM CDT

Earlier this week, the state spent over $3 million on a special election  that asked voters to do the Legislature's job & balance the state budget.  Governor Bentley & other GOP leaders blamed the budget problems on the state's struggling economy.  Indeed, the state is far too dependent on sales taxes, which can cause wild swings in revenue.  It's a "feast or famine" situation.

But a January 2012 study by UA economist, Dr. Samuel Addy suggests that this year's budget woes may be self-inflicted.  Remember the Republicans' stated goal of making life so miserable for undocumented workers that they leave the state?

They accomplished that goal and, in doing so, managed to run tens of thousands of taxpayers out of the state:

"As a result of this exodus, aggregate demand has been reduced, a negative shock that puts the state's economy on a lower growth path than would have been the case without the law," the report argues.

There are also costs associated with implementation, litigation, potential loss of economic development due to negative publicity for the state and inconvenience in obtaining services for residents.

Alabama's gross domestic product, or GDP, will take a sharp hit according to the analysis. The state's total goods and services produced will drop between $2.3 billion to $10.8 billion and the state will lose between $56 million to $264 million in state income and sales tax collections, the study predicts.

Now remember the $437 million draw from the Alabama Trust Fund.  It's a 3-year draw down of principal - about $145 million/year, which is rght in the middle of Dr. Addy's projections.

In 2010, undocumented workers paid $130 million in state & local taxes in Alabama.

Nice work, guys.  By fighting the unicorn of an "immigration crisis," you managed to tarnish the state's national & international reputation, cost the state millions in legal fees, give the state's economy a sucker punch, and scare voters into raiding the state's savings account to pay for your folly.

Truly, we can't afford any more years of Republican control and their "unintended consequences."

hat tip to an LIA FB fan who pointed out this study!


Discuss :: (4 Comments)

Jeff Sessions Medals In Anti-Immigration Olympics

by: mooncat

Fri Aug 17, 2012 at 11:00:00 AM CDT

Jeffy only managed a silver medal, but I'm sure he'll try harder next time to make Alabama look mean-spirited and xenophobic.

Jeff Sessions - Silver in Saying Stupid Things

  • Alabama’s worst-in-the-nation immigration law found a supporter in Senator Sessions (R-AL). Asked about the thousands of undocumented kids were too scared to show up for school, Sessions said that it wasn’t sad. Sessions slammed the decision to stop deporting undocumented kids as “mass backdoor amnesty” that has “declared to the American people that [Obama] is determined to… circumvent the will of the people.”
Discuss :: (0 Comments)

SCOTUS Rules Against Arizona Immigration Law

by: mooncat

Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 13:36:38 PM CDT

For all those immigrant-haters in Alabama who have been saying "our anti-immigrant law isn't unconstitutional because the Supreme Court hasn't struck down Arizona's" -- look out.  In a 5-3 decision the US Supreme Court just invalidated big chunks of Arizona's SB 1070.

The Supreme Court found that sections 3, 5 and 6 of Arizona's law directly conflict with federal immigration law and are unconstitutional.  Mary Bauer, legal director for the SPLC, says:

“Today’s decision is a blow to Arizona’s anti-immigrant law and similar copycat laws that have sprung up in other states.  The court’s decision affirms that much of these laws are unconstitutional because they are preempted by federal law and that they have significant concerns about the one provision they allowed to stand.” 

That provision is the racist, "show me your papers" provision that opens the door for racial profiling by law enforcement and harassment of anyone who doesn't look like us.  Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was understandably concerned that the Court left that provision alone:

“This ruling strikes down some key provisions of a draconian law that makes people more vulnerable to abuse. SB 1070 and laws like it only serve to divide us by opening the door to racial profiling, infringement of civil rights, and harassment and violence against those seen as ‘different.’ While we are encouraged by parts of today’s decision, the path has been cleared for the most offensive portion of the law – the ‘show me your papers’ provision – to take effect. Nobody should be forced to live in constant fear of having their family torn part, of being separated from their loved ones, while simply trying to go about their daily lives.

The Court left the door open to revisit the constitutionality of Arizona's "show me your papers" provision after it goes into effect.

Read the Court's opinion here.

Justice Scalia was outraged in his dissent, claiming that the Court was going after the sovereignty of individual states. 

“We are not talking here about a federal law prohibiting the States from regulating bubble-gum advertising, or even the construction of nuclear plants,” he declared. “We are talking about a federal law going to the core of state sovereignty: the power to exclude.”

Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA, pushed back on Scalia’s argument.

“Scalia has finally jumped the shark,” Winkler told TPM. “He claims to respect the founding fathers, but his dissent channels the opponents of the Constitution. Back then, opponents argued that the Constitution denied states their sovereignty by giving too much power to the federal government, as with immigration. Now Scalia echoes their complaints that states are being denied their sovereignty. States are not sovereign when it comes to powers vested in Congress, such as the authority over immigration and naturalization.”

Yeah, state sovereignty is one of those conservative code words.  Kind of like states' rights.

Second Front has reactions from Alabama pols, most of whom are working hard to make lemonade out of this pile of lemons.  House Speaker Mike Hubbard managed to work both President Obama and states' rights into his response:

States really are the last line of defense to protect the rights of the people, and never has that been more evident than with President Obama ordering federal agents to stand down on immigration enforcement actions.  States have not only the right, but the duty to uphold the rule of law and protect their citizens, especially when the federal government refuses to do so.

They reported that HB56 mastermind Scott Beason "is still reading the ruling, but is surprised SCOTUS considered foreign affairs in its decision."  Join the club, Scott.  Many of us were surprised when the Alabama Legislature got involved in enforcing the nations borders, too.

What does this mean for Alabama's HB56?  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which called this ruling a "major blow" to anti-immigrant laws, Alabama's HB56 ...

... includes three provisions similar to those considered in the Arizona case: police inquiries into immigration status; criminalizing being present in the state without immigration papers; and criminalizing soliciting work.  Several other provisions have no overlap with those considered in the Arizona case, including: requiring inquiries into immigration status of students and their parents;; criminalizing day laborer activities; criminalizing helping undocumented immigrants; criminalizing certain transactions with public officials by undocumented immigrants; and making many contracts unenforceable if they involve undocumented immigrants.  All these provisions have been blocked, except the requirement of police to inquire into immigration status.  An appeal is pending in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  The precise impact of the Arizona decision will be decided by the Eleventh Circuit later this year.

The fight against these cruel self-deportation laws is not over, but the bad guys suffered a significant blow today.

Discuss :: (6 Comments)

President Obama's Remarks On Immigration Enforcement Directive

by: mooncat

Fri Jun 15, 2012 at 15:45:29 PM CDT

President Obama on the Homeland Security directive to exercise prosecutorial discretion "with respect to individuals who came to the United States as children."


As I said in the previous post, this new policy is reasonable middle ground on the issue.  Predictably, the right is going nuts.  

A reporter for the rightwing Daily Caller actually heckled President Obama during his remarks in the Rose Garden.  You can hear it at about 4:45 on the video.  Romney immigration advisor and HB56 architect (he was the one in the turkey blind) Kris Kobach (R) said the new guidelines are "deeply troubling" and "illegal."  Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) called the new policy "outrageous" and "political amnesty."  No reaction yet from HB56 mastermind, Scott Beason(R), but on twitter, Alabama Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R) also used the politically charged word "amnesty" which is being bandied about on Fox and right wing radio as well. 

As the President said, this is not amnesty -- it is not immunity from prosecution, it is not a pardon, it is not forgiveness, it is not a path to citizenship or legal status.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

There's An Undocumented Immigrant On the Cover of TIME Magazine

by: mooncat

Fri Jun 15, 2012 at 14:57:49 PM CDT

Time Magazine Immigration CoverActually, there's a whole bunch of undocumented immigrants on the cover of TIME.  Hold onto your tinfoil hats, they're taking over our newsstands!  Worse, the cover story was written by an undocumented immigrant, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.  Will Alabama law enforcement raid newsstands to rid the state of these "illegal" magazines?

The cover of this week’s TIME Magazine features a young Alabama leader, Victor Palafox, among others in the immigrant-led movement for fair immigration reform and policies.  Palafox is the young man in the lower right corner of the cover.  The issue, which will hit newsstands Tuesday, features a personal essay, Not Legal, Not Leaving, written by Vargas who came out as undocumented in the New York Times last year. 

These "illegals" came to the US as children, look upon America as their home and plan to make a life here.  They're called Dreamers, and not just because they would benefit from the DREAM Act.  They dream of citizenship and full participation in the American Dream.  Unfortunately, there is no path to citizenship for these young people.  There is no way for them to "get legal, no matter how much they want to.

As of today, they will no longer face deportation.  The Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum outlining new guidelines for exercising prosecutorial discretion in the case of "certain young people who were brought to this country as children and know only this country as home."  In the memo HS Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote that the nation's immigration laws were "not designed to be blindly enforced" and "nor are they designed to remove productive young people."   Amen.

The new rules apply to immigrants 30 and under who came to this country before the age of 16, are in school or who have completed high school, or are honorably discharged veterans, and have a clean record -- an estimated 800,000 young Americans-in-all-but-documentation.

Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund released this statement:

"This is huge.  As a result of today’s decision, hundreds of thousands of young people who are American in all but paperwork will have the opportunity to live freely, work legally, and contribute to the country they love.  The President is right to step up and protect these young people, because this expansion of existing policy is the only viable path to meaningful relief for Dreamers this year."

President Obama called this move "the right thing to do."

"Let's be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix," Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. "This is the right thing to do."

Well, there's still no path to actual citizenship for these young almost-Americans, but Obama has done a masterful job of finding a reasonable compromise on this issue.  This is middle ground.  We'll no longer be wasting valuable resources trying to deport productive residents, no one is being "rewarded with citizenship" for coming here illegally and -- best of all -- young people like Victor Palafox will no longer have to live in fear of being arrested and deported to a strange country.

This policy change isn't everything I want to see, but it's definite progress.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Conservative Christians Denounce Alabama Style Immigration Approach

by: mooncat

Wed Jun 13, 2012 at 13:59:54 PM CDT

Republicans know they're on the far right edge of the fringe, hanging out in the chilly breeze, when they've lost James Dobson's Focus on the Family group.  That's where Republican hard-liners on immigration such as Scott Beason, Robert Bentley and ... yes, Mitt Romney ... find themselves today.

Tom Minnery, the senior vice president of policy for one evangelical group, Focus on the Family, said many of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants should be free to “come out of the shadows” and “begin the process of restitution” leading to attaining legal residency.

Mr. Minnery spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference called to announce that more than 150 Christian evangelical leaders, including from the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals, were endorsing an overhaul of immigration policy.

The evangelical leaders expressed opposition to such notions as “self-deportation,” which Mr. Romney favored in a Republican debate and which urges strict enforcement of laws to encourage illegal immigrant workers to leave the country.

Laws like ours here in Alabama are intended to make life for undocumented immigrants so hellish --  racial profiling, questioning school kids, long lines, denial of water, power and sewer service, etc. -- that they will simply leave, thus saving the cost of deporting them.  It's a cruel approach to the immigration problem, and as we have said time and again, UNCHRISTIAN.  

And this is not an isolated incidence of conservatives trying to walk back the zenophobia.  Former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had this to say at an immigration conference (several prominent right-wing speakers) in Atlanta earlier this week:

“This Republican party – and not to make this partisan – has done a terrible job talking about this issue in a way that’s very anti-Hispanic, and anti-immigrant, and I think that’s very, very unfortunate," he said. "And whether or not Gov. Romney can recover from that remains to be seen.”

It's about time groups like Focus on the Family and others who claim to support Christian values begin to voice opposition to these laws. 

The remorse is political, too.  With large hispanic populations in several swing states, Republican strategists are beginning to voice concern about their party's obsession with publicly beating up on brown people.  Polls indicate the immigration hard-line hurts Romney's chances in several key states

Mitt Romney's stance in favor of Arizona's immigration law makes Hispanic voters in the key swing states of Nevada, New Mexico and Florida less likely to vote for him, says a new poll from Project New America and Public Policy Polling.

Alberto Gonzales says a flip-flop on immigration would be worth the political risk for Romney.  Jeb Bush says he needs "broader immigration ideas."  What does Mitt Romney say?
So far Mitt Romney is sticking by his previous statements -- Arizona's law should be "a model," the "answer is self-deportation" and his promise to veto the DREAM Act. 
Stay tuned, I sense another Romney flip-flop on the horizon.
Discuss :: (3 Comments)

SPLC Immigrant Abuse Hotline

by: mooncat

Thu Jun 07, 2012 at 11:37:39 AM CDT

Alabama Immigrant HotlineLast year Alabama Republicans enacted the nation's cruelest anti-immigrant law, HB56.  This year, they made it even worse by passing HB658.  Yesterday the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced the re-launch of a hotline where people can report problems and abuses they have experienced as a result of Alabama’s draconian anti-immigrant law.
Call 1-800-982-1620 to learn more about the law and share your stories of HB56/HB658 related problems/abuse.

“State lawmakers have callously refused to address the humanitarian crisis created by Alabama’s anti-immigrant law,” said Mary Bauer, legal director for the SPLC. “As we continue our fight against this unconstitutional law, we want to know first-hand the suffering it is inflicting on people across the state.”
The immigrant abuse hotline was created last September when HB56 began to be implemented. It received 1,000 calls detailing issues faced by immigrants, regardless of their status ... in the first week of operation!  It has now received more than 5,800 calls with stories illustrating the humanitarian and economic crisis created by the law. You can read some of these stories at www.splcenter.org/hb56.
This year's font of unintended consequences, HB658, includes a "scarlet letter" provision that requires the state “to post a quarterly list of the names of any undocumented alien who appears in court for a violation of state law, regardless of whether they were convicted.”  Get that?  Guilt or innocence doesn't matter; Alabama lawmakers want to stamp a big, red, I on all immigrants, even if they're acquitted.  This is an open invitation to vigilante groups -- hardly unknown in Alabama.  The KKK never had it so easy.

“This latest change in the law is nothing more than an attempt to bully and intimidate people, and serves only to encourage vigilantism,” Bauer said. “We encourage people to report problems they have faced because of the law – no matter how big or small.”
In addition to the SPLC, several other organizations provide staffing for the hotline.  They are the National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Latino Justice.

WTF is wrong with Alabama?  We should be better than this.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Gov. Dr. Bentley Is Named To Hall Of Shame

by: mooncat

Thu May 31, 2012 at 19:33:12 PM CDT

Robert BentleyCongratulations are in order for our Governor.  Immigrants’ List (IL), a bipartisan political action committee, unveiled the inductees into their second annual Local Hall of Shame, including Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R)The list 'honors' the ten worst anti-immigrant local politicians in America. 

Yay, Alabama!  We're in the top -- or should I say the bottom -- 10 ... AGAIN!  HB56 author Sen. Scott Beason (R) made the list last year.

When you’re paying higher prices for food this fall – stretching your paycheck even further – you can thank Robert Bentley for costing you money.

Gov. Bentley signed Alabama’s notorious HB 56 (the "worst in the nation" anti-immigration law). It starts with "papers, please" mandates, and adds to it. He wants K-12 public schools to investigate the documentation of every student. A provision tries to stop the undocumented from attending public colleges or universities. It bans landlords from renting to the undocumented, requires every business to investigate employees, and churches have pushed back against a portion prohibiting the transporting or harboring of undocumented immigrants. Occupying the same governor’s mansion once occupied by George Wallace, Bentley is a sad reminder that we still have yet to overcome.

Immigrants’ List Board Member Ted Ruthizer said “Bentley’s worst-in-America immigration law is causing Alabama to become one of the least welcoming places in the U.S. for businesses to locate and create jobs. We’re a better country than this.”

Didn't somebody say "R" is for reverse progress?  It's certainly true with Gov. Dr. Bentley at the helm.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Alabamans In The News - The Good & Bad

by: countrycat

Thu May 31, 2012 at 07:23:37 AM CDT

Two very different Alabama residents received attention in national publications recently.  Helen Rivas was honored by the Americas Quarterly as a "Hero of Social Inclusion" for her work on immigration.  State Senator Clay Scofield got a derisive mention in USA Today in a column co-written by the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Birmingham's Helen Rivas was honored for her work with immigrants in Alabama.  The steering committee member for the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice explained the situation facing many:

Attitudes in the United States toward immigrants run in cycles. Right now, we are at a shamefully low point, where a few who speak of patriotism and love of country, of the rule of law and of our country’s founding principles, and of family values, have fallen prey to the cockamamie idea that some people do not deserve to be seen as fellow human beings and are not entitled to rights under the U.S. Constitution.

That must change. I am confident that we, as Alabamians and as a nation, will eventually beat back horrible laws such as HB 56, whether by changing hearts and minds or by political and legal action.

Meanwhile, another stupid Alabama law was also in the news a few weeks ago.  Writing in USA Today, two physicians ask the question "Where Are the Doctors?" in relation to increasing restrictions on birth control & abortion:

Nine states require doctors to perform ultrasound examinations on women seeking an abortion, and to encourage women to view the images. (This requirement was justified by Alabama Sen. Clay Scofield in his deeply patronizing comment, "This bill just allows them to see the child inside of them, so it's not just out of sight, out of mind.") Three of these states also require women to listen to a description of the fetus.
The unspoken assumption by state legislators seems to be that doctors will, of course, acquiesce with these new laws, that they are simply neutral agents who will comply with whatever the state orders. Physicians, however, have ethical commitments to patients that they cannot and should not be required by state law to set aside. 

Obviously, the authors have missed the writings & the leadership on this and other issues by our own Dr. Abston

Congratulations to Helen Rivas.  We need more people like her (and Dr. Abston) who are willing to speak out and work to help make our state a place people admire instead of a state that regularly provides fodder for comedians. 

Alabama has done the national laughingstock bit for too long.  It's time to aim for something better...

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Immigration Mega March, This Sunday In Montgomery

by: mooncat

Fri May 25, 2012 at 09:45:23 AM CDT

Human beings are not illegal

March for Your Rights From the Alabama State Capital to the Governor’s Mansion
On Sunday May 27th from 3:00 – 6:00 PM, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice will lead a mega-march from the State Capital to the Governor’s Mansion.  Supporters are marching in protest of last week’s passage and signing of HB 658 – the latest version of Alabama’s racial profiling and anti-immigrant law.

Groups from all over the state including Albertville, Alexander City, Athens, Clanton, Decatur, Dothan, Greater Birmingham and Russellville will be coming to Montgomery to participate in the march against discrimination and racism.  “This fight isn’t just about immigration, as the legislature would have you believe,” said Benard Simelton, President of the NAACP Alabama State Conference.  “It’s about judging people on the color of their skin instead of the content of their heart.  This is not the kind of law we want in Alabama, this is not who we are.  We are one family, one Alabama marching together for justice.” 

WHO: Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice
WHAT: March for Justice
WHERE: Montgomery, AL - from State Capital to Governor’s Mansion
WHEN: Sunday May 27, 2012 – 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
CONTACT INFORMATION: Salvador Cervantes (312) 593-6411

We all have skin in this game, no matter what color our skin is or how long ago our ancestors came to America.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)
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