Alabama – Here we come!!!

A Reflection from Rabbi Joshua Salter on traveling to Alabama for the FIRM Summit and Immigrant National Convention

On December 14, 2011 a delegation of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) leaders and Organizers left to attend the 2011 Fair Immigrant Reform Movement (FIRM), a national collaboration of organizations addressing the Immigration Reform movement. As a organizer at SWOP, which is a member institution of ICIRR, I was delighted to be a part of this significant convening in historic Montgomery, Alabama - the face of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s for African Americans.

Our evening departure begun with a rounds question of what did we hope to take from this trip. My answer is such that I was hoping to grasp the spirit of the “civil rights” struggle and walk the same “paths” that my fore-parents walked. Upon our arrival we were given a proper understanding of Alabama history past and presentation by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer with Equal Justice Initiative, who spelled out for us where we were. He explained that we were in “the Heart of the Confederacy” and you can find this “heart of Dixie” on the Alabama license plates even today.

ICIRR by far had the largest group of delegates than any other organization from around the country and is well respected and recognized for its work both inIllinoisand nationally around Secure Communities. Panel discussions were held featuring Civil Rights era leaders like Rev. C.T. Vivian, a heralded leader for many decades who survived vicious attacks for Freedom, Freedom Rider Catherine Burks-Brooks, Victor Palafox, a Courageous leader with Alabama Dreamers for the Future, Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum, Marvin Randolph of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Josh Hoyt of ICIRR and many other prominent leaders of the past and present who led us in fruitful conversations about the Immigrant Movement forward as it relates to struggle for civil and human rights.

On the morning of Saturday Dec. 17 a rally was held at the Alabama State Capitol building with more than 3,000 people to send a message to legislators that Alabama House Bill 56 is unacceptable in this Age to discriminate against people based on the color of their skin, which clearly this bill is intended to do. We were joined by a busload of ICIRR leaders including SWOP Organizers Sarah Mesick, Zerah Imam and SWOP leaders Esperanza Marrufo, Stephanie Alvarado and Timothy Anderson.

At the Rallies many stories were shared in regards to children not being able to attend school, renting or buying of homes not being allowed, home utilities being shut off and lack of ability to work or being fired. Again, fear and terrorism is alive and well again in Alabama; but on this day many who are undocumented showed up and showed out in the belief that this great country of Liberty and Dignity, should always stand for Freedom and should always be courageous in historic fights for the future of this country, and for me to stand with them in this time of need is what I live for.

Many times when go to places we think of what we can bring back; but on this trip it was better to leave some things.some good, some bad, some ugly, some beauty, some inspiring, some truth, some love, some perseverance, some tenacity, some care and some compassion for people seeking human dignity.