By Jason Morton
On the same day a federal appeals court struck down some provisions of Alabama’s controversial immigration law and upheld others, a group rallied in downtown Tuscaloosa to decry the law’s impact on immigrant families.
Somos Tuskaloosa, a local coalition of community members and church leaders, joined with No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice, a delegation of undocumented residents and their supporters passing through Tuscaloosa. The protesters marched from the U.S. Federal Building and Courthouse on University Boulevard to the University of Alabama camp us Monday afternoon.
Ride for Justice left Arizona on July 29, the anniversary of that state’s immigration law, and is traveling across the country to rally migrants to organize and challenge laws and policies targeting undocumented immigrants.
The combined group of about 50 people started on the sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse, where chants of “Una familia, un Alabama” — one family, one Alabama — and “undocumented, unafraid!” were followed by the crowd shouting in unison: “No papers, no fear! Dignity is standing here!”
The group then moved to the courthouse steps, where federal marshals, who oversee courthouse security, alerted local police that the protesters lacked the required demonstration permits.
But, after speaking with the organizers, Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson said that it was better to allow the demonstrators to disperse peacefully, rather than arrest them.
Ireri Unzueta-Carrasco, 25, interpreted for several undocumented residents, many of whom said they are now living in Tuscaloosa, as they told stories of harassment and fear following passage of Alabama’s immigration law, commonly known as HB 56, last year.
One described the law as “a situation worse than the (April 27, 2011) tornado.” Others, through Unzueta-Carrasco, said the law was “inhuman and hateful” and that they didn’t want their children growing up in fear.
“I’m here to fight for the future of my children,” said Trini Garcia, an undocumented resident who said she’s lived in Alabama for the last 15 years and who used Unzueta-Carrasco as a translator. “Their success is my success.”
The protest, which started at 4:30 p.m. and lasted until after
6 p.m., drew the attention of passing motorists and pedestrians.
One of them was University of Alabama student Jessica
Edmundson, a junior from Montgomery majoring in geology.
She said she had come downtown for a cup of coffee when she spotted the demonstration.
“I think all of our citizens should have equal rights,” the 21-year-old said. “This (protest) is really empowering.
“The people are going to have to really be engaged in the political process for us to have a stable society.”
Her sentiments were shared by Tuscaloosa County resident Deb Crocker and Northport residents Carl and Pat Clements, who said they showed up to stand alongside the undocumented immigrants in opposition to a law they consider unfair and unjust.
“I’m here to support immigration law reform,” Pat Clements said, adding that she would like to see the immigration and legalization process simplified. “We have room in this country for the people who want to be here.”
Maria Luisa-Hernandes, a 28-year-old native of Mexico who said she has lived the last nine years in Tuscaloosa, said she was protesting for her children and her family.
Luisa-Hernandes said she believes it’s important to educate her children, ages 8 and 3, to appreciate and respect both the culture of Mexico and Alabama.
Her oldest child has not been bullied by his classmates because of his nationality, but she said she is worried that he will be.
“My child has fear,” Luisa-Hernandes said with the help of her interpreter and fellow Somos Tuskaloosa member, Gwendolyn Ferriti. “He’s afraid — he’s no fool …
“He listens to the conversations we have as a family in trying to plan for our futures.”
Luisa-Hernandes, a housekeeper, said she turned out to demonstrate in order for lawmakers to understand that these policies are affecting residents and families.
“The reason I’m here is because I want my voice to be heard,” Luisa-Hernandes said. “I think that we all have rights, we’re all human and we’re all searching for justice.”