Eyes on the prize: Immigrant rights activists fight Juan Crow

On March 7, 1965, more than 500 demonstrators set off on a 54-mile march through the segregated South from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., in response to the murder of a civil rights activist. The march called for African Americans to be given the right to vote and an end to violence and intimidation.

Fast forward 47 years, to the day: Immigrant groups will join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for an annual commemoration of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. This year, the fourth day of the march will be focused on immigrant rights issues, drawing parallels between the struggle for civil rights and the present day immigrant rights movement.

"This historic act of coalition building presents a unique opportunity for organizers in Chicago to remember our common history of struggle," said a press release by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which is driving to Alabama for the march, "and build lasting relationships between the civil rights and immigrant rights communities."

The groups will be marching against a punitive immigration bill in Alabama that requires police to determine immigration status during traffic stops and allows government offices to ask for proof of legal residency when enrolling a child in school.

Activists argue that by intimidating immigrants in public space by requiring officers to ask for their immigration papers and using the risk of arrest to keep undocumented youth from enrolling in schools,  Alabama's law and others like it in Arizona and Georgia lead to de fact segregation.

They say it is so similar to what African Americans experienced pre-1960s that they have nicknamed the bills "Juan Crow" legislation, a play on the Jim Crow laws of the segregated South.

"Call it Juan Crow: the matrix of laws, social customs, economic institutions and symbolic systems enabling the physical and psychic isolation needed to control and exploit undocumented immigrants," wrote Roberto Lovato in The Nation.

Groups fighting against the laws have used strategies from the civil rights movement, including "freedom rides" like the ones civil rights groups did 51 years ago, and civil disobedience actions similar to sit-ins organized at segregated lunch counters in the 1950s to bring attention to the plight of undocumented immigrants in the South.

And much like the Great Migration to the North, the attack on immigrants is driving people out of the state and to other places where their right to live and work feels less threatened.

We'll be discussing the similarities between the immigrant rights movement and the civil rights movement with Courtney D. Sharpe from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Hugo Jacobo who is part of the Chicago delegation going to Alabama, on the Barbershop Show, on Friday at 12 p.m. on Vocalo's 89.5.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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