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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Latino immigrants in Alabama working hard and thriving in the face of country's toughest immigration laws-- no surprise

This is a great article from Colorlines about the reality of immigrants "stealing" jobs, their work conditions that remind me of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, what immigrants actually do for revitalizing a community and town, and of course how the children fair in American society and schools-- all this in the face of the toughest immigration laws in the country.

The Alabama Town Most Changed (and Saved) by Immigration

Students sit in the gym as kids get back to school in Crossville, Ala., another town being remade by immigration. The state's worst-in-the-nation immigration bill is being challenged in court.
Photo: Jay Reeves/Associated Press

by Gabriel Thompson
Thursday, August 25 2011, 9:06 AM ES

Russellville is a small town in northwest Alabama, the kind of place that most people who grew up an hour's drive away don't even know exists. Even by Alabama standards, folks in Russellville take their football seriously. Though the town only has about 10,000 residents, a few years ago its high school became the first in the state to purchase a Jumbotron video screen, at a cost of more than a quarter million dollars.

As with many small towns, when change comes to Russellville it usually comes slow: schools here didn't integrate until the late 1960s, and until a few months ago the sale of alcohol was prohibited. But in 1989, the construction of a poultry plant unwittingly set Russellville on a course of rapid transformation. Within a few years the area became a magnet for immigrants looking to settle down and raise a family after years of laboring in the tomato fields of Florida.

Today, Franklin County—of which Russellville is the county seat—has the highest percentage of Latinos in the state, primarily a mix of Mexicans and Guatemalans. According to the Census Bureau, Latinos make up 14.9 percent of the county's population, though the real number is undoubtedly much higher, as undocumented communities are regularly undercounted.

Along with Russellville, the entire state of Alabama has seen a tremendous increase in Latino residents, whose numbers have doubled in the last decade. This growth has in turn generated a backlash from politicians seeking to build their careers upon the backs of undocumented immigrants. In June, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley made history by signing into law what the harshest anti-immigrant bill in the nation. Inspired by Arizona's SB1070, the bill permits law enforcement to detain people they suspect to be undocumented, allows the state to revoke the business licenses of companies found to be employing unauthorized workers, and makes it a crime to transport someone known to be undocumented. Finally, and most controversially, it forces schools to determine the citizenship status of its students.

The Justice Department has called the law unconstitutional—because it preempts federal authority to regulate immigration, among other reasons—and filed suit against the state earlier this month. A federal judge heard initial arguments in the case on Wednesday. The court will have to move quickly in deciding whether to allow the law to move forward; it takes effect on Sept. 1.

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