The panic continues. Federal judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn refused to stop enforcement of immigration law HB 56 while her decision to let the worst provisions of the law stand is appealed by the Department of Justice and civil rights groups.
With this, fear continues to spread throughout Alabama's immigrant community, as many have packed up and fled in terror to nearby and not-so-nearby states. Others prefer to weather the storm by staying as far underground as possible, leaving home only when strictly necessary. Others have chosen to take their children out of school, to avoid the risk that they'll be asked about their immigration status--despite the fact that in theory, this provision is not supposed to apply to students who have already enrolled.
But undocumented or mixed-status families in Alabama have more in common than the panic that this immigration law has generated in the community.
Both types of families are also choosing to notarize documents to grant relatives or friends legal power to decide what to do with their children--many of them U.S. citizens--if their parents are detained and eventually deported.
At first glance, it would seem that many of these families would be protected from deportation under the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations ordering immigration officials to prioritize deportations, as many are fathers and mothers with established community ties, many of whom have been living and working here for over ten years. Furthermore, many have children who are United States citizens.
"I'm trying to put on a brave face for my son, I'm shielding him from this atmosphere of panic we're living in. I'm trying to be strong and reassure other mothers in my situation. But I'm afraid," one young undocumented mother told me. The mother, born in Oaxaca, Mexico, would not give me her name. Her son is seven years old and a U.S. citizen, but he has no one else here: no father, no relatives.
"I prepared a notarized letter to give temporary authority to the godmother of my son, so that she can take him out of the country and bring him to me in Mexico in case I get deported," she said.
"If it was just me and I got deported, well, I'd have to go back (to Mexico). But what future can I hope to give my son in Mexico, with so much violence and so much poverty? It's complicated," she added.
This young woman's story is similar to the dilemma facing many of Alabama's undocumented parents, who have been calling local groups in search of advice about what to do with their children or belongings if they get detained and put in deportation proceedings.
The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) says that a significant portion of the hundreds of calls and appointments they're fielding on a daily basis come from parents asking what will happen to their kids if they are deported.
"They're looking to obtain power of attorney so that someone else will be able to make decisions regarding their children or property in case of their deportation," explained Victor Spezzini, lead organizer at HICA.
"We don't have exact figures yet, but it's one of the most frequent requests. Just as frequent are requests for an apostille, which is the official seal that's added to birth certificates, and which would allow them to enroll their children in schools abroad if that were necessary," he explained.
Last week, civil rights groups and the Department of Justice appealed Judge Blackburn's decision to leave the most oppressive provisions of HB 56 in effect. They also filed a petition asking her to stay enforcement of the law while the 11th Circuit considers the appeal. That petition was denied, and the law continues to be enforced.
But Spezzini said that "even if the law's ultimately blocked, that's temporary."
"We're asking people to continue obtaining notarized letters of legal authority and apostilles anyway, because even if Alabama's law is blocked, there are still federal laws, and there's still ICE. So the risk remains," Spezzini explained.
HICA's office has been processing these cases ceaselessly, and yesterday was no exception.
One young man from Mexico City, who asked not to be identified, was trying to procure a letter not just for his two U.S. citizen children, but also for his assets: his house and a small construction business.
"It's so my friend can send my children to Mexico if my wife and I are deported, and so he can take over the business I've put so much work into," he explained.
"The white people who depend on my construction business told me that if I don't have my papers in order, they'll send me a paper they've signed so that they're covered. They're afraid because they depend on us for construction," he said.
The initial panic has already changed many lives.
But the young woman from Oaxaca manages to remain optimistic.
"I'm going to see what happens, and if they don't detain me soon, I'm going to wait. Because I have to keep earning a little money in case they do take me away. If I go to Mexico it's not like I'm going to find work immediately. But in the end, God will always protect us," she said.
Her farewell to us reflected the mix of fear and optimism with which she faced her situation.
"I hope we see each other again, if not here in Alabama, then at the Guelaguetza festival in Oaxaca," she said as we parted.
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