By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
About 400 to 500 protesters came to the State House in Montgomery on Tuesday to protest immigration bill HB 56. After the rally, they were given limited access to the building to deliver Valentine’s Day cards to senators and representatives. There was confusion within the crowd as to why some accesses were limited.
When the House opened it session, Representative Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) protested to the Speaker and the House that she had been receiving calls all morning regarding people being denied access to the State Capital Building such as religious groups that had traditionally given out Valentine’s Day cards. She said that people were usually allowed to walk the halls since it is a public building. She said that in the 10 years she has been in the House, she has never heard of this happening before. She demanded to see a copy of the new policy.
Speaker Mike Hubbert said that it was not a policy of the House and Senate but a decision that had been made by security.
Catherine Montoya with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice said, “We were only permitted to go to the fifth and seventh floor today. All of the other floors we were not permitted to go on.”
When asked if they were allowed to go into the galleries, she replied, “No.”
She went on to say that “it seems rules were applied differently to different types of people. We are still confirming some things but we believe that we have a constituent now that is going to talk to the press. We do think that some project managers and community members that came to meet with their legislators were treated differently based on the way that they looked.”
Chief Sgt. at Arms for the House of Representatives Derek Hamilton took opposition to this assertion and said, “No one was denied access to our galleries.
He said that House and Senate security were contacted last week by the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice who asked for their assistance with the rally. He commended the organization for sending a representative in advance of the event. “Everything that happened was preplanned from a meeting that took place last week,” he said. “We met with a spokesperson from the organization last week and we were open for any suggestions or recommendations of anything that they would need.”
The organization had anticipated and informed State House law enforcement that they were anticipating 1,000 protesters to be at the rally.
Hamilton said that the plan was a request from the organization. “What was structured and in place today was something that they requested assistance with for the delivering of the Valentine’s Day cards that were coming to the House representative and senators. No one within that group was denied access. This is a public building.”
The measures that were in place were a joint effort between all of the law enforcement in the Alabama State House and also some outside agencies and departments, as well.
But again, no one was denied access to any floors here in the Alabama State House
Hamilton said they met with an individual by the name of Salvador who was the organizations point of contact. He said Salvador shared their agenda and offered their services, at which State House law enforcement extended their services to them “to be able to be in a position to assist them.”
“Again, no one to my knowledge, was denied access to any areas of the building. Once the Valentine’s Day cards were delivered to the legislators, our understanding, per Salvador, was that the group would exit and then board the buses,” said Hamilton.
“At the conclusion of their rally if there were any other individuals who did not arrive by bus, if they were to arrive by personal vehicle, they were welcome at that time to re-enter the building and the building was open. They have free access to the galleries for both the House and the Senate and any other public space within this building,” he concluded.
He said that other groups that are planning rallies or already have them scheduled are welcome to contact House and Senate security so that they can accommodate and assist.