Florida immigrant rights organizers lash out against Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law listen08/30/11 Andrea Lypka
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As we reported Monday, a federal judge in Birmingham, Alabama has temporarily blocked enforcement of that state's new law cracking down on undocumented immigration. It is one of the country's toughest on immigrants and has prompted some community organizers in Florida to travel to Alabama and take action.
The new law requires public schools to check students’ immigration status and requires employers to verify potential employees’ immigration status.
Mayra Hidalgo Salazar from Lakeland went to Alabama to help a group of high school students called Alabama Dreamers for the Future in their immigrant rights movement.
Hidalgo is a DREAMer herself, in other words, an undocumented student. The 20 year old student from Costa Rico has recently graduated with an associate’s degree from Polk State College. Under current immigration laws she is in limbo, she cannot legalize her status.
“I was brought to this country when I was 6 months old and I went to the public school system just like any American-born child. When I graduated from high school, I realized I don’t have the same opportunities, even though I have worked so hard and I graduated with a 4.2 GPA. I was accepted into every university I have applied to. I realized I could not attend any of those dream schools because of my status,” she said.
Undocumented people can’t legally drive and work, and undocumented students are not eligible to receive financial aid. Despite these hardships, Hidalgo got the chance to study at Polk State College.
“I served on the Student Government Executive Board as secretary of legislative and fiscal issues and I was able to get a scholarship that covered the 16 credit hours per semester and I was able to earn my associates degree,” she said.
Hidalgo wants to go to law school and become an immigration lawyer.
“But right now, I am taking one semester off from school to figure out how I can afford to pay because at the university level it is very difficult for people in my situation to attend,” she said.
Hidalgo, who has been active with (http://www.swer.org/) for the past 3 years, says she will continue to resist against attacks like Alabama’s HB56. The controversial immigration bill that passed on June 9, requires public schools to check students’ immigration status, criminalizes those who give undocumented people a ride, and requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop.
“That is basically what I've dedicated my life to. I hope someday when I have a law degree I can come back into this community and help the people and the culture that has give me my ambition and made me the person I am today. I could only imagine the fear they'd be living in under that law. So when my friend, Felipe Massos, he's an organizer in Miami, called me to see if we could organize a group to go to Alabama to help the immigrant community there I was so excited and so ready to go. ”
The Florida team was made up of undocumented people active with students working for equal rights.
" I was able to get representation from every part of the state.
For Hidalgo the struggle in Alabama was a life changing experience. She sees the immigration rights movement as a civil rights movement.
“There were a lot of people there who had a deep seated hatred for us and honestly, I don’t know if it is illegal or legal or having a piece of paper. I think it is just that immigrants there are a different color and different culture and some people did not accept that.”
Hidalgo is skeptical about the Department of Homeland Security’s recent announcement that they will review about 300,000 pending deportation cases in federal immigration courts to determine which individuals meet specific criteria for removal.
"I want to believe it's true but at the same time Obama has created a reputation for himself among immigrants where he doesn't always do what he says he going to do. The order the Obama administration made is very similar to something that came out in the media a couple months ago from ICE leader John Morton. He said that dreamer cases would be low priority. But we continued to seeing many dreamer and our friends deported.
Hidalgo and other community organizers started actions in Florida in solidarity with the immigration movement in Alabama. This month, a group of students and community organizers met with Florida’s junior Senator Marco Rubio’s staff concerning the DREAM Act that did not pass in Senate. The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would give conditional green cards to undocumented immigrants if they graduate from high school and pursue college or a job in the military.
"The regional director for the office. He said he could not give a comment of the Dream Act because he did not want to misrepresent Mark Rubio.
Hidalgo says she will continue to meet with Rubio’s staff about immigration rights.