Thursday, November 17, 2011

13 arrested in protest against Alabama's immigration law

One of the most dramatic protests against Alabama's tough illegal immigration law unfolded here Tuesday as 13 activists, most of them from out of state, were arrested for blocking a street near the Capitol and refusing to leave a legislative office building as a crowd chanted, "Undocumented, unafraid!"

The acts of civil disobedience were the culmination of a rally organized by the Dream is Coming project, a group of young illegal immigrants calling for passage of the DREAM Act, the proposed federal legislation that would create a path to citizenship for qualifying illegal immigrants who attend college or enroll in the military.

But the organizers were also targeting the Alabama law, which is considered the nation's strictest, and which has drawn activists into the state to organize and protest to a degree rarely seen here since the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s.

In recent weeks, organizers have been teaching illegal immigrants around the state how to form "neighborhood defense committees" to inform and support one another about the way the law is being applied. On Wednesday, the AFL-CIO plans to send a group of African American labor leaders to Birmingham to observe the law's effects. On Monday, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) is among those scheduled to appear at a rally at Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, where a bombing in 1963 killed four young black girls and helped fuel the civil rights movement.

As it has in other states, the Dream is Coming group hoped to show other illegal immigrants that they would be safer if they came out of the shadows and declared their undocumented status. The Obama administration's policy is to avoid deporting noncriminals; as an apparent result, group activists who were arrested in Atlanta this year were released by immigration authorities, even after publicly declaring their immigration status.

Sam Brooke, staff attorney with Montgomery's Southern Poverty Law Center, said the strategy carried "a real risk" in Alabama, where the new law requires that police report to federal authorities anyone they detain if they have a "reasonable suspicion" the person may be in the country illegally. Coming out at a public rally, he said, might "make it easier to identify you when you go home."

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Illegal immigrants arrested at protest identified; 12 remain jailed (videos)

The 13 protesters arrested yesterday after a demonstration outside legislative headquarters have been identified on a website by their supporters, who have now set up a fund to help bail them out of jail.

HB56: Civil Rights Movement & Civil Disobedience