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Alabama's immigration law: Denying children food stamps

February 8, 2012 |  2:44 pm

Alabama
Alabama's immigration law was the focus of a recent episode of "This American Life." For the segment, Jack Hitt traveled to Alabama shortly after HB 56 went into effect to see how the draconian law, which has been compared to the Fugitive Slave Act, had quickly created a culture of fear and shame.

Every Latino person, legal or illegal, whom I spoke to noted at some point that there's just something hateful in the air now. Before the law, they felt accepted. They had American friends. They didn't feel out of place.

Now when they go to a store, every single one of them told me they feel that people are looking at them weirdly, like, what are you still doing here? When the law changed to make them less welcome, they actually became less welcome, in a day-to-day, "passing you on the street" sort of way. School kids told me they're fighting off comments like, I'm glad you're all moving, we don't want you here, you take our jobs. At a pep rally, where Latinos were all sitting up front, kids started shouting, Mexicans move to the back. And most of them did.

In addition to turning state and local police into immigration agents and requiring schools to determine the immigration status of students, HB 56 also prohibits undocumented immigrants from entering into a business transaction with the state. Try having electricity if you're not allowed to pay an electric bill.

Not only has this forced undocumented immigrants into hiding -- although HB 56's ultimate goal is to encourage undocumented immigrants to self-deport -- it's made everyone else afraid of them too. One woman Hitt interviewed said this hateful new way of life had even made its way to the church.  

Gabriella

Yes, because even in the church, you find people that say, well, we are in God's house. And then they don't want to talk at you. And they don't want to give the peace to you. That is so sad.

Jack Hitt

So in your church, you have the passing of the peace, that part of the service? And so in your church, when they do that, what normally happens? You turn and shake hands with people?

Gabriella

Yes. They shake hands and everything. But now I found some people that say, I don't want to do peace with you.

And it gets worse. On Wednesday, ThinkProgress' Amanda Peterson Beadle shed light on how HB 56's taint had extended to the food stamp program.

Because a portion of Alabama's harmful immigration law makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to enter into a "business transaction" with the state, some public utility companies have interpreted this measure so broadly that they have prevented undocumented immigrants from receiving water or power at their homes. And a library has even required people show proof of citizenship before they can sign up for a library card because of the "business transactions" provision.

Now U.S.-born children with undocumented immigrant parents even have been denied food stamps because of this portion of the anti-immigrant law. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports that five people have called the group's hotline to report that they were denied food stamps under the law because of their immigration status even though the benefits are for their American citizen children.

It's troublesome enough to impose restrictions on what food stamps recipients can and can't buy with their food stamps, but denying access to food stamps altogether is quite possibly the most shameful outcome resulting from Alabama's destructive immigration law.

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--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Demonstrators protest Alabama's immigration law during Gov. Robert Bentley's State of the State address at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., on Feb. 7. Credit: Dave Martin / Associated Press 

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