The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos (ANAD) filed a complaint with the Mexican Department of Labor on Monday against Alabama’s harsh immigration law, HB 56. The SEIU, which represents 2.1 million workers in North America, wrote in the complaint that the law violates international human rights and labor rights standards and is in direct conflict with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Specifically, both organizations argue that HB 56 contradicts the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation—a supplemental labor agreement to NAFTA—by “creating a climate of fear and intimidation that chills immigrant workers and their co-workers who seek to form trade unions, bargain collectively or participate in other worker advocacy organizations.” The complaint goes on to claim that HB 56 contributes to increased racial discrimination, minimum wage and overtime violations, workplace health and safety hazards, and discrimination against workers who appear foreign.
The Mexican Labor Department will now launch an investigation into the allegations. “We are confident they will see HB 56 for what it is: an immoral racial profiling law that now threatens workers and economic stability,” said Eliseo Medina, SEIU's International Secretary-Treasurer. SEIU filed a similar complain last month with the International Labour Organization.
Monday’s complaint focuses on the economic and labor consequences of HB 56, but this type of harsh immigration legislation also takes a significant social toll on immigrant families, and particularly children—including many who are U.S. citizens—argues Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco in, “The Dream Deferred,” published last week in the Spring 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Honduran Prison Fire Kills over 350
A fire at Comayagua prison in central Honduras killed over 350 people on Tuesday night. The origin of the fire is unclear, though Honduran press speculated a short-circuit was the cause. Authorities suspect inmates escaped during the blaze. It is the third major prison fire in Honduras in the last decade and one of the deadliest Latin American prison fires in the last quarter century. Just last month, a fire also broke out at a forced detention drug treatment center in Peru, killing 27.
The Legacy of Honduras’ Coup
NPR’s Weekend Edition broadcast a two-part series on the legacy of Honduras’ 2009 military coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya from power. The series examines the effect of the coup on the country now, suggesting Honduras may owe its status as the world’s most violent country in part to that event. “If the president can be taken out of a country and have his rights taken away, without a trial or anything, then what becomes of your average citizen?” asks one Honduran.
Deposed Honduran President’s Wife Running for Office
Xiomara Castro, wife of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, announced her candidacy for president of Honduras on February 11, reports Honduras’ La Tribuna. She will compete as a pre-candidate for the Popular Strength and Refoundation Party in November and would run in the 2013 presidential election. She pledged that, if elected, she would pursue constitutional reform. Her husband also pushed for such reforms before the military ousted him from power in 2009.
This past weekend, 150 immigrant rights activists from around the country descended upon Montgomery, Alabama, to show solidarity with local leaders fighting against the state’s draconian immigration bill, HB 56, and plan a national strategy for 2012.
The two-day Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Summit was perhaps most notable for its culmination, a front-page affair. On Saturday, the activists, who came from 35 organizations from roughly 30 states, participated in a 2,500-person rally and march in the state capital.
The rally began in front of the state legislature, where the notorious bill was passed. There, speakers ranging from undocumented Alabamian students to SEIU secretary-treasurer Eliseo Medina railed against the pain being caused by HB 56. Students told of losing friends, whose families had left the state in recent months for fear of being detained by the police and being separated from their families. Civil rights leaders, meanwhile, warned against the dangers of going back to the “dark days” of segregation in the state. Orator after orator insisted on the need to repeal the law and build a brighter, more inclusive, future for Alabama.
The protesters (this writer included) then marched to the mansion of Governor Bentley, who signed the law into effect and has been one of its staunchest supporters and has even traveled abroad to convince investors that Alabama is still “open for business.” The marchers hailed from all over Alabama—with a particularly strong contingent from the NAACP—and throughout the country, and their diversity was perhaps best encapsulated by a chant that pulsed through the streets of Montgomery:
Del norte al sur
Del este al oeste
Ganaremos esta lucha
Cueste lo que cueste
Ultimately, the rally and mobilization made one of the largest public statements against HB 56 since the law’s passage, but it was also important because it signaled the incipient organizing muscle that is being built in Alabama’s immigrant rights community. Several months ago there were virtually no full-time community organizers working with immigrants in Alabama. Now, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and its national supporters are working hard to build up that capacity, with the ultimate hope of building enough grassroots power to repeal HB 56. Over the next months, organizers will be coordinating house meetings to bring people together, as well as further public actions during the upcoming legislative session.
The Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court on Monday to review a ban against anti-immigrant legislation in Hazelton, PA. Hazelton’s infamous Illegal Immigration Relief Act of 2006 was deemed unconstitutional by Federal Judge James Munley in 2007. Last September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld most clauses of Judge Munley’s injunction, effectively shutting down the law.
The Supreme Court can order lower courts to reconsider a decision in light of a more recent high court decision. In this case, the higher court ruling to uphold key provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070—namely that employers would lose their business license if they knowingly employed undocumented immigrants—has led to a revision of the Hazelton law with similar penalties for employers. Ironically, the Illegal Immigration Relief Act is considered the impetus for punitive immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia and across the U.S. since 2006.
But local reaction in Hazleton is mixed. In the wake of this news, one resident commented: “elected officials should bury it [Hazleton's law] , be done with it and get to work on fixing real problems.” The law has also had far-reaching social and economic consequences. Roughly half of Hazelton’s 10,000 Latinos—including its documented population—reportedly left the city due to its immigration law. The town also saw an estimated 20 percent to 50 percent drop in business in the months following its implementation, even though it was eventually blocked.
The Supreme Court decision on Hazelton’s law in many ways exemplifies the current tension at the federal and state levels over progressive versus regressive immigration policy. On the one hand, the Supreme Court decided yesterday to allow California to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But last Thursday, the Alabama Legislature passed an Arizona-style immigration bill with a wide margin, and Georgia’s punitive immigration law goes into effect on July 1. The inconsistency of immigration law presents newfound urgency for, as well as clear challenges to, a comprehensive federal immigration policy.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.