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Unintended Consequences Of Alabama Immigration


I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, a severe drought in the Horn of Africa has claimed thousands of lives this year and it has also brought millions to the brink of starvation. But now, the United Nations is saying efforts to alleviate the disaster are finally paying off. We will get the latest from on the ground in Somalia in just a few moments. But first, we go to Alabama, the state that has supplanted Arizona as ground zero of the immigration debate.

Alabama's immigration law considered the strictest in the nation went into effect at the end of September, and in the week since it's brought some unintended consequences. Businesses are complaining about widespread labor shortages. State processes are slowing down because every transaction with the government now requires a verification of a person's immigration status. The U.S. Justice Department has sued the state over the law and is investigating possible civil rights violations, and yesterday a delegation of Democratic members of Congress held a hearing in Birmingham to highlight the laws impact.

In a moment, we'll speak with a long time columnist for the Birmingham News about what policy changes lawmakers are considering. First though, for reaction from Latinos living in Alabama, we welcome Orlando Rosa, a host for La Jefa Radio in Birmingham metro area. Over the weekend, he lead the fourteen cities, fourteen days, one family one Alabama tour. He joins us now on the line. Orlando, welcome to the show.

ORLANDO ROSA: Good afternoon, I'm sorry, sir. How you doing?

COX: Nice to have you, thank you. Before we talk about your tour of Alabama I'd like to ask you this; to focus on yesterday's hearing for a moment which you attended. Does a hearing like this, in your opinion - federal officials parachuting into a Southern state - help or hurt?

ROSA: I would say it would help. I mean, it helped a lot being there. I mean, that's from my point of view and from the Hispanic point of view, you know, talking from them.

COX: In what ways would it help?

ROSA: It would help because they have a better connection obviously with the federal government, being that they're Congressman from Washington, you know, and to have these different Congressman from different parts of the states coming here to the state of Alabama like you say is ground zero to what's happening, that a lot of these Hispanics are having their civil rights violated. You know, we're hearing a lot of stuff about people saying that they're illegals, that they need to go back. They're stealing people's jobs. We don't see it like that.

They don't see it like that either. So, I see it helps because they can better clarify to people that they're not here to take people's jobs. They're not here, you know, to cause harm. You know, they're here to better their lives, better their families life and all they want is an opportunity to be here legally.

COX: Your tour, it spanned fourteen days and you and other organizers walked from town to town to get reaction from residents on the immigration law. Didn't you know what to expect, and what reaction did you get?

ROSA: Yes, sir. You know, we got a couple of reactions. You know, positive obviously for us and negative for us, you know? Starting our tour in Athens, Alabama where we started we received - I mean, coming out of the parking lot where we started walking we received somebody that was opposing what we were doing and they asked us, hey, what are you guys doing? Well, why are you guys walking? Why do you have microphones, cameras? What's this about? And we told him, and it's like he was expecting us to say we're here to create a dialogue with people about HB-56. And he, I mean, he completely jumped on us and said that illegal is illegal. Anybody that's here illegal that he's in favor of them getting deported, of ICE detaining them. I mean, that's one of the stories we heard. We've heard, you know, as families are being broken up, their husbands are being arrested just because they didn't put a flasher on or they didn't put their signal to turn to the right on a street. Police pulled them over, you know, probable suspicion that he was here illegally. They detain them, ICE picks them up. They're separating families, kids being bullied in school from other students saying that go back to your country when these kids are born and raised here in the state of Alabama. I mean, so many stories, I could go on forever.

COX: The mayor of Albertville told me on this program recently that this is not about race. It is about economics. Do you believe him?

ROSA: I don't believe that. You know, this is a racial issue. A lot of people see it the same way. I'm not just the only one that sees that is looking at it from that perspective. I do see this as a more than anything a racial issue.

COX: Are jobs going wanting with the exodus of undocumented workers, and where are those workers fleeing to?

ROSA: The majority of them, sir, and I can speak for them because we saw we were able to go to (unintelligible) Alabama where there's a lot of picking of tomatoes. A lot of picking of different kind of vegetables and these people are leaving. They're leaving to other states. They're leaving to neighboring states. Atlanta, they're timid because of what happened over there with their law with SB-87, if I'm not mistaking. A lot of them are just going back to their country.

I mean, a lot of them are just taking, packing their stuff leaving the bigger stuff that they can't take with them to cross the border and they're going back to their country because they're scared and they don't want to be in a place where they're not welcome.

COX: Orlando Rosa is a host for La Jefa Radio in the Birmingham Metro Area. He joined us from his studios in Pelham, Alabama. Orlando, thank you very much for coming on.

ROSA: Thank you so much, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.