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Alabama Immigration Law Opponents Won't Be Joined By Top Auto Manufacturer

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Opponents of the Alabama immigration law protest outside of the state Capitol.
Opponents of the Alabama immigration law protest outside of the state Capitol.

WASHINGTON -- A top officer with Daimler Motor Company told opponents of Alabama's immigration law Wednesday that the corporation will not publicly call for repeal, even after the measure led to the arrest of a German executive with the company in the state.

It wasn't the result civil and immigrant-rights groups wanted when they traveled to Berlin this week to confront company executives at a shareholders meeting Wednesday. Still, they said the fact the company responded at all -- so far their requests to talk to top Daimler officials have gone unanswered -- was a good sign.

They were also encouraged by Daimler Chief Financial Officer Bobo Uebber's statement that the company is closely following the law and even discussing it with Alabama business groups and members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"We were somewhat disappointed because the ask was for them to call for a total repeal of HB 56 and they would not do that," said Fred Redmond, international vice president for the United Steelworkers union, who was in the room at the meeting. "But we were very well received by the shareholders at the meeting ... that in itself put Daimler in a position where they had to respond."

"The important thing is that this is the first public statement that Daimler has made" about the Alabama law, Redmond continued.

A spokesman from Daimler confirmed the content of Uebber's remarks after the meeting, but said they do not mean the company plans to insert itself into the issue further.

A coalition of groups -- including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the United Auto Workers and the Southern Poverty Law Center -- are pushing foreign automobile manufacturers to come out against the law, HB 56, citing the companies' influence as job-creators within the state. The state law -- aimed at driving undocumented immigrants out of Alabama -- is considered the most extreme of its kind in the nation and has led to a federal lawsuit and reports of children being pulled from school, unwarranted arrests and immigrants being denied water and other services.

The groups called in February for Daimler, Hyundai and Honda -- which all manufacture in the state -- to help them push for repeal of HB 56.

The activists' argument is partially based on the first-hand experience that the companies have had with the law, which allows police and other government officials to ask for proof of legal immigration status during a number of interactions. Two foreign auto executives, one from Mercedes Benz -- part of Daimler -- and the other from Honda, were arrested in November 2011.

So far, none of the companies have come out against the law. Daimler executives believe issues over HB 56 should be resolved by local or regional politicians or the courts, a spokesman said.

At the Daimler meeting, Renata Soto of the National Council of La Raza spoke on behalf of the coalition, pointing out the company's commitment to the United Nations Global Compact, which says it will act with respect to civil rights abuses.

"At Daimler’s annual meeting last year, Mr. Chairman, you may recall that you highlighted Daimler’s participation in the Global Compact and pledged -- and I quote -- to adhere to exceptionally high standards worldwide in areas of human and workers’ rights, environmental protection and the prevention of corruption. The objectives are ambitious -- but so are we, you stated," Soto said. "Unfortunately, the high standards do not seem to have penetrated the borders of Alabama."

When members of the anti-HB 56 coalition traveled to Seoul, South Korea, in March to attend a Hyundai shareholders meeting, they were allowed to speak but received no definitive answer on whether the company would respond to the law.

The groups may also attend a Honda shareholders meeting in June, but are first waiting to see if the Alabama legislature acts to repeal or change the law. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, has said he would be open to minor changes but not a full repeal.

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