Carlos Ramos, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who illegally crossed the border into the United States in 2000 and now lives in Alexander City, said that though he is concerned about a Donald Trump presidency, he plans to fight back against any new anti-immigration policies.
“I feel like everybody; I feel scared, I feel sad. I can’t believe it. But this happened in our state, in Alabama, and so many people left the state and got paranoid and some other people, we stood up and fought,” the 43-year-old said, referring to H.B. 56, a sweeping 2011 anti-immigration state law that caused some immigrants to leave Alabama.
At the time, the state was on the cutting edge of a GOP-led experiment in instituting harsh laws to encourage “self deportation” that many see echoed in president-elect Donald Trump’s immigration proposals. Ramos said the Latino and immigrant communities in Alabama are stronger as a result of having made it through the crackdown.
“This is going to be the whole country,” said Ramos, “but I feel some good things will happen because we need more people and this a good time to get out and do something. We have to be prepared to fight, not to leave.”
Immigrants and their advocates across the United States were stunned by the election of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president Tuesday, a development that many people believe poses an existential threat to the nation’s ranks of undocumented immigrants.
But in Alabama, representatives of pro-immigrant groups say that they and even some of the undocumented immigrants they work with are not as concerned as some of their counterparts in other states.
That confidence and lower level of panic is rooted in the fact that Alabama’s immigrant community has already lived through H.B. 56, which was widely described as the country’s harshest immigration law at the time.
An expansive piece of legislation, it required local police to question people they believed might be undocumented immigrants, made it illegal to rent a home to an unauthorized immigrant and even asked schools to inquire about the immigration status of students.
Though the time under H.B. 56 was one of fear and uncertainty for many Alabama immigrants that compelled thousands to move out of the state, those who remained say they were emboldened by the experience.
Yazmin Contreras, a community organizer at Adelante Alabama Worker Center, a nonprofit immigrant rights organization headquartered in Hoover, said there is real concern about what immigration policies Trump – who has proposed mass deportations and building a massive wall on the Mexican border – may push.
“There are some people that are obviously worried about what immigration will look like under a Trump presidency,” Contreras, who is a daughter of Mexican immigrants, said Wednesday. “I think that the unknown is the part people are most worried about because no one really knows what a Trump presidency will look like and what he will do in office.”
The Birmingham-based Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) seconded those concerns in a Wednesday statement, but like Adelante, its members believe that Alabama’s immigrant community is uniquely suited to respond to any harsh immigration laws under Trump.
“With the unexpected news of a soon-to-be Trump presidency, most in our community became worried for their futures, panicked even,” the ACIJ statement said. “But with only a few hours to digest this harsh reality, what has emerged from our community is unwavering strength and resilience.”
‘Dark and tough times’
Contreras said that the H.B. 56 battles taught her and many other Alabama advocates and immigrants that mass deportation and other anti-immigration measures will never actually be implemented in the U.S., and that that gives the state’s pro-immigrant movement strength and resolve.
“It does worry us, but at the same time we have gone through very dark and tough times, and I think if anything the nation will see what we experienced at the local level here,” she said.
“H.B. 56 was created to scare people off and get rid of the undocumented immigrants in this state, and I think people quickly realized we are part of this state and this economy and that we helped build this place. So I don’t think that as a nation that is going to happen. He’s not going to be able to deport 11 million people, and as far as the wall – that would cost how many millions?”
So immigrants and their advocates like Contreras and Ramos and ACIJ Executive Director Sarai Portillo say they will stand and fight as they did back in 2011.
“This is the beginning of a new era,” Portillo said. “This is the continuation of the struggle for respect for rebel dignity, for respect and appreciation for human rights as citizens or undocumented migrants, and for respect for the struggles of our predecessors in this country. We will go ahead, with no room for doubt.”