National Migration Week 2014  has begun and the theme, “Out of Darkness,” calls to my mind the inspiring efforts of the CLINIC network striving to be a light to our fellow sisters and brothers in need. I recently spoke with a staff member at one affiliate organization that I believe embodies the spirit of this week -- the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama  (¡HICA!).
After Alabama passed HB 56 in 2011, ¡HICA! and other local legal service providers stepped in to work with immigrants impacted by this restrictionist law. Among other things, the law required police to arrest suspected immigration violators, which resulted in racial profiling and discrimination against immigrants. Some were denied utility services and turned away for medical care because the law made it a crime to enforce contracts with or harbor undocumented immigrants. In addition, the law required schools to inquire about students’ immigration status. In a recent interview, Matt Buttler of ¡HICA! recalled that rumors and misinformation created uncertainty in communities. Afraid of immigration enforcement and deportation, many families avoided attending school, church, or even going outside , and victims of crimes no longer trusted police.
To provide clear, accurate information, ¡HICA! enhanced community education through Know Your Rights trainings, town meetings, and collaboration with local agencies and law enforcement. ¡HICA! and partners filed a class action lawsuit in federal court to prohibit other harmful provisions of HB 56 from taking effect. On November 25, 2013, the parties to the case, ¡HICA! v. Bentley, finalized a settlement to end litigation . The settlement put an end to provisions of HB 56 deemed unconstitutional. As a result of the settlement, law enforcement cannot apprehend individuals only to investigate immigration status, and undocumented immigrants may solicit and accept work and may access state courts to enforce contracts. Thanks to the efforts of ¡HICA! and its partners, the most egregious provisions of HB 56 no longer threaten immigrants.
The dedication demonstrated by affiliate agencies like ¡HICA! encompasses the theme of National Migration Week and highlights the tremendous impact possible by standing together in solidarity with immigrants. CLINIC is thankful for its affiliates who dedicate their work to ensuring that immigrants who come to the United States seeking hospitality, safety, and the opportunity to improve their lives.
National Migration Week is organized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to call Catholics to participate through prayer and action to try and ease the struggles of immigrants, migrants, and vulnerable populations and to reflect on the Church’s obligation to welcome the stranger. For more information on National Migration Week, visit http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/national-migration-week/index.cfm .
*Tessa M. Winkler is the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.'s (CLINIC) Public Education Officer