El Paso – Congressman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) joined a Congressional delegation of 11 members of Congress in Birmingham, Alabama, and participated in an ad-hoc field hearing Monday which provided him first-hand information and knowledge from public officials, community leaders, families, teachers, and small business owners on Alabama's state law, HB 56, which some call the most misguided and ill-informed immigration law in the country.
As a 26 year veteran of the U.S. Border Patrol, and the only member of Congress with border enforcement background, Congressman Reyes provided insight on the security inadequacies regarding immigration. During his remarks, he also criticized HB 56 as a misguided bill fostering distrust between law enforcement personnel and immigrant communities.
Below are Congressman Reyes' remarks prepared for delivery:
"I am honored to be in Alabama today with a group of my Congressional colleagues as we shed light on the most discriminatory law in the country that oppresses immigrants, HB 56.
"I thank Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois as well as my other colleagues for joining us today in Alabama as we denounce a state known as the "paper's please" law.
"This law is radical, out of touch with real America and irrational--a shame on our country's democracy.
"Luis, thank you for taking the lead on this important matter. I stand by you and my colleagues ready to take action to do all in my power to bring down this unconstitutional and discriminatory law which affects us all.
"We are here today to examine the negative impact of HB 56 Alabama's newest racist law that calls for all Alabamans and Americans to produce "paper's please" in order to establish their citizenship.
"As my colleagues have said, the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate passed this law with wide support earlier this year.
"Prior to being elected to represent the 16th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, I served for 26 years in the United States Border Patrol. I personally patrolled large swaths of the U.S.-Mexico border and know first-hand what works and what does not work in regards to immigration.
"This law is not a security law, it is misguided irresponsible, and worse, produces an atmosphere of distrust and hostility between the immigrant community and law enforcement agencies and officers.
"Worst of all however, this law is divisive. There is a way to bring about security and this is not the way to do it.
"HB 56 was signed into law on June 9, 2011, by Governor Robert J. Bentley. The legislature in Alabama aided by Governor Bentley has taken some of the toughest stances on immigration issues that affect immigrants and American citizens not only in Alabama, but throughout the country.
"This harsh law is the strictest anti-illegal immigration law in the United States and tougher than the State of Arizona's SB 1070.
"The scope of the law requires that police in the state of Alabama, during any legal police stop, detention or arrest, if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that the person who they have detained is illegally in the United States, make a reasonable attempt to determine the person's legal status.
"The law also goes on to block undocumented immigrants from receiving any public benefits and mandates that public elementary and secondary school officials obtain the legal status of students enrolled in Alabama public schools. The law is so harsh that it prohibits landlords in Alabama from renting property to undocumented immigrants and condemns the hiring of undocumented immigrants for both employers and employees.
"Recent news reports indicate that farmers in Alabama are struggling to find people to work the fields because American citizens do not want to work the fields in essence, putting at standstill farming in Alabama. It is thanks to this irrational law that farmers and our crops, food and produce, which all Americans depend on, are also suffering the second-hand effects of HB 56.
"The original version of the law even considered contracts reached by any party with an undocumented immigrant deemed null and void. In addition, the HB 56 requires voters to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote.
"Thankfully, the Obama administration, immigration groups and religious groups were able to block parts of the law from going into effect. Today, the on-going appeals battle against this law continues.
"On September 28, 2011, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama gave parts of the law the green light and provisions of the law went into effect.
"On October 14, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice and coalition groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, appealed Judge Blackburn's ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals citing HB 56 as unconstitutional, especially the requirement to collect information from enrolling students' regarding their immigration status.
"I am here today to reiterate what my colleagues have said and denounce this law, which is harsh, strict and unprecedented. It only divides our country rather than uniting it.
"During these times, when terrorists and radical groups are looking at ways to infiltrate our country and harm us, we as a nation should be looking at ways to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that will boost our economy and make our country a safer one.
"A comprehensive immigration bill that brings the 9 to 12 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so we can identify who is in our country, weed out the criminals, terrorists and those who wish to harm our way of life-is the right course to take.
"I thank Luis and my colleagues for taking time to be here today. I look forward to our continued work and support to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality."