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Alabama Immigration Law Fight Moves To South Korea

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Protester stands outside Hyundai shareholder meeting in Seoul.
Protester stands outside Hyundai shareholder meeting in Seoul.

South Korean car manufacturer Hyundai, which has large plants in Alabama, hasn't responded publicly to the state's extreme immigration law -- yet. Civil rights and labor organizations hope that will change, particularly after they traveled Friday to Hyundai's headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, to attend a shareholder meeting and pressure the company to speak out against the law.

"We sent a real, clear message to the other multinational corporations that we're not bluffing, that we are truly going to follow up ... and they need to take it seriously," Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, told The Huffington Post in a phone call from South Korea.

So far, despite the arrests of two automobile executives under the Alabama law, foreign car manufacturers with factories in Alabama have stayed out of the fray, at least publicly. But given their influence in the state, Hyundai, Honda and Daimler AG have been pushed to speak out against the law by civil rights and labor organizations, who believe the manufacturers could have a positive impact in the fight against it.

They argue that Alabama immigration law H.B. 56, which would allow state government officials to ask for documents during a number of interactions with people who live there, is a civil rights and moral issue too big for corporations to ignore. They also argue that the manufacturers could put off potential immigrant customers, particularly Latinos, by remaining silent about the law. These points were laid out in letters earlier this year, signed by a number of advocacy organizations, requesting a meeting with top executives. So far, no meetings have taken place.

The group leaders arrived in Seoul at 4 a.m. Friday -- Thursday in the U.S. -- and later stood outside the shareholder meeting, giving flyers to attendees and speaking to South Korean media.

Medina and Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, were allowed to attend the meeting as representatives of shareholders in partner organizations. Hyundai gave them permission to stand and speak to the crowd for a few minutes about their push to repeal the law. Henderson said he told them about the civil rights concerns of the law, such as reports that it led to undocumented immigrants being denied water and feeling compelled to pull their children from school. He also told them about a letter former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D), who opposes H.B. 56, sent to a top Hyundai executive.

Although a federal judge enjoined some provisions of H.B. 56 last year, it remains largely intact, and Republican lawmakers in the state have said they may amend it slightly but will not allow for its repeal.

Medina said the shareholders responded positively and "really perked up and listened." After the meeting, the Hyundai vice chairman told South Korean press after the meeting that the company has a responsibility to look into the concerns, Medina and Henderson said.

Hyundai did not respond to a request for comment.

The groups plan to do the same thing in April at a Daimler AG shareholder meeting in Berlin and a June Honda meeting in Japan. They said they will also continue to demand meetings with top executives at the three companies to discuss what could be done.

"[The action] was intended to really press our case in South Korea, and hopefully to have that case reverberate back to Alabama," Henderson told The Huffington Post. "Officials there have to take to note that this issue has moved beyond their ability to contain it."

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