Fighting the Anti-Immigrant
Backlash in Alabama
By Helen Rivas
“A;itudes in the
for all: Helen
Church, which also
fights for social
justice in Alabama,
February 3, 2012.
run in cycles. Right
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now, we are at
grew up learning to prize fairness and justice,
which has driven my participation in civic and
political advocacy. This is what sustains me ev-
ery day in the fight for immigrant rights in Bir-
mingham and across Alabama—a daily struggle
that has become all the more difficult with pas-
sage of the cruelly restrictive, headline-generating HB 56
law that aims to make life intolerable for the state’s un-
My fight for immigrant rights traces back decades, beginning with what might be termed basic social work services. Today, I am active across social, ethnic and faith
lines as a founding member of Latinos Unidos de Alabama
and an at-large board member of the Birmingham Metro
Diversity Coalition. But most of my time is spent working
as a member of the steering committee of the Alabama
Coalition for Immigrant Justice, making sure that immigrants and their families find the help they need.
Unfortunately, Alabama is not alone. Many U.S. states
have been less than welcoming to undocumented immigrants. From the front lines in Birmingham, I see the
effects every day: undocumented immigrants have left
Alabama for fear of arrest, uprooting immigrant children
from their schools and communities. Economically, only
9 percent of agricultural jobs vacated by immigrants have
been filled, resulting in reduced productivity and economic decline for all Alabamians.
There are plenty of people fighting behind the scenes for
immigrant rights. My advice for them is to reach out wherever they go, take advantage of every opportunity to listen
to people, to inform and educate, and to enlist allies who
can often be found in surprising places.
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.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON WALLIS/REDUX PICTURES