11/18/2011 04:15 pm ET | Updated Jan 18, 2012

Why I Am Going to Alabama

On Monday, November 21st, several of my colleagues in the House of Representatives and I, led by Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, are heading to Birmingham, Alabama to denounce H.B. 56, the state law that undermines the human rights of those without legal status and jeopardizes the ability of their children to attend school.

This law requires public schools to determine the immigration status of their students. Unfortunately, many families have already removed their children from Alabama public schools to avoid harassment by administrators.

H.B. 56 also requires police officers to determine the legal status of anyone arrested or otherwise detained, based on a "reasonable suspicion" that the person does not have citizenship. In effect, the law requires racial profiling. Anyone who seems to be "Not American" must establish his or her right to remain in the United States.

In addition, H.B. 56 authorizes the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to hire and maintain its own immigration police force.

This egregious law is another attempt by reactionary politicians to legislate that which is clearly beyond their jurisdiction... Immigration Law.

No one should believe that the problems with our nation's immigration policies are strictly limited to the reactionary, abusive, and often bigoted Alabama and Arizona laws. The effect of our obsolete federal immigration policies on families has been deplorable - with more than 5,000 children placed in foster care due to their parents having been detained or deported.

There are better, more enlightened and humane alternatives to address our broken and obsolete immigration system. For example, on Monday, the New York State Board of Regents recommended that the state legislature allow undocumented students to receive financial aid from the state's Tuition Assistance Program. Other states have enacted similar programs that will allow undocumented residents and their children to obtain an education and participate in the economy.

Only Congress has the authority to adequately and holistically address our broken immigration system. That is why it is imperative that Congress take up comprehensive immigration reform so that we can keep families and communities together; provide a feasible pathway to citizenship; fix our visa allocation system; bring workers back to our farms; and integrate our immigrants as contributing members of our civil society, strengthening our economy and creating jobs for all Americans.

We have the ability, it is our duty to reject the politics of divisiveness and bigotry. We must pass comprehensive immigration reform now. How we treat these immigrants today will ultimately define our future as a nation.

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