WASHINGTON — The fight against Alabama’s controversial immigration law, HB56, will get a push from a delegation of U.S. lawmakers Monday, when 10 House members will visit Birmingham.
The all-Democrat group will meet with local elected officials, law enforcement, educators and other community members at the Birmingham City Council Chambers before heading to the historic 16th Street Baptist Church where they will help kick off a campaign to repeal HB56.
The church became a flashpoint in the civil rights movement in 1963 when it was bombed, resulting in the deaths of four black girls.
“In other states we have seen anti-immigration bills pass, but in Alabama it has triggered something unique,” said Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez during a Thursday press conference announcing the event. “The fear and chaos in a small, not very well established Latino and immigrant community has run deeper.”
On Thursday the delegation praised the Obama administration for intervening to block the Alabama law’s implementation. In August, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state.
At the crux of the debate is whether or not states have the authority to enforce immigration, or if it should be left up to the federal government.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told CNN Tuesday that “if the federal government would have done its jobs and enforced the laws dealing with this problem,” the state law would not be needed.
Most recently, the DOJ has been probing Alabama public school records, asserting that if school-age children are being denied educational opportunities, regardless of their immigration status, their civil rights have been violated.
But Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama told The Daily Caller the Obama administration’s actions are unfair and heavy-handed.
“I think there’s been an effort by leftist, activist immigration advocates to punish and attack states who dare take action that would tend to enforce immigration laws,” Sessions told TheDC during a phone interview.
“And incredibly the Department of Justice has joined in on that aggressively. I think it could be seen as some sort of attempt to threaten or punish a state who does not go along with their views of immigration.”
Sessions added that the Alabama law “is designed to be complementary to the federal law.”
The Justice Department filed a brief in federal appeals court on Monday claiming that the U.S. Constitution “leaves no room for such a state immigration-enforcement scheme.”
Gutierrez and the other Democratic members of Congress who gathered on Thursday used the announcement of their trip as a platform to advocate for changes in national immigration policy.
“The reality is that we need comprehensive federal immigration reform, not the current piecemeal approach we are presently seeing,” said Rep. Terri Sewell, the delegation’s sole Alabama representative.
After an October visit to Alabama, Gutierrez said he “got a sense that the history of fighting for justice and fighting for basic rights is still alive in Alabama.”
The delegation of Democratic members of Congress will include Reps. Terri Sewell of Alabama; Raul Grijalva of Arizona; Joe Baca, Grace Napolitano and Zoe Lofgren of California; Luis Gutierrez of Illinois; Yvette Clarke of New York; and Charlie Gonzalez, Al Green and Silvestre Reyes of Texas.
Both Sewell and Gutierrez drew parallels between today’s fight for immigration reform and Alabama’s role in the 1960s-era civil rights movement.