By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
BIRMINGHAM–Wednesday evening, The Immigrant Youth Leadership Initiative of Alabama (IYLIA) held a rally outside a fundraiser for Gov. Mitt Romney.
On August 15, applications for President Obama’s program granting relief to undocumented/illegal citizens were made available as a part of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. While the Act was not passed into law, President Obama, took the unusual measure of implementing parts of the Act through executive order. Participants are referred to as DREAMers.
“This is a national day of action. There are actions going on today in New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, all over the country,” said Victor Palafox, Birmingham, community organizer with the IYLIA and steering committee member with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
Palafox was born in Mexico City but was raised and currently resides in Alabama. He has been actively involved in helping the communities organize throughout the state of Alabama including being an active speaker/protester during the 2012 Legislative Session as well as appearing on the cover of “Time” magazine.
“The fact that [Romney] is coming to Alabama is something personal for us because after a year of suffering under HB56 and now HB658 it is a relief to have something like Deferred Action. On the other hand, you have Mitt Romney saying that he would flat out veto the DREAM act even if it passed both houses of Congress,” said Palafox.
According to Palafox, Romney’s anti-immigration advisor is Kris Kobach who was the primary author of Alabama’s Anti-Immigration Bill HB56.
“If [Romney] is going to come to Alabama we want to let him know that we are going to hold him accountable,” said Palafox. “This isn’t a partisan issue. This isn’t a Republican issue, this isn’t a Democrat issue. This is an issue of who is willing to work with us and to stand with us against this anti-immigrant rhetoric. If a candidate or any political figure is actively working against our communities we have to let them know that.”
He also said that it is also about sending a message to the people inside saying, “If you giving funding from $5 to $25,000 on any given night for Mitt Romney, we want you to know what you are funding and that we are not entirely happy with you investing money in this.”
Afterward IYLIA held a Deferred Action clinic where lawyers were available at First United Methodist Church in Birmingham to have one-on-one consultation with individuals who wished to apply.
On June 15, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, set forth by the Obama Administration to potentially help over a million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States avoid deportation and obtain work authorization. This provides some relief for children born in another country and brought into the United States by their parents.
The policy is a temporary release under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for people between the ages of 15 and 31 but does not provide legal status. Under the program, those accepted would be able to receive a work permit and then a social security number in order to work and pay taxes as long as they can prove “an economic necessity for employment.” This status can be renewed or terminated at the discretion of DHS.
“It would allow certain people to stay and work legally in the United States for two years,” said Palafox.
According to The Immigration Policy Center, approximately 1.4 million immigrants in the United States are expected to meet the 7 guidelines of the deferred action initiative, now or in the future. An estimated 936,930 meet those requirements as of August 15, 2012. Mexican immigrants make up almost 70% of those eligible.
The states with the highest estimates are: California (412,560), Texas (226,700), Florida (85,750), and New York (70,170) are the states with the highest number of expected beneficiaries.
The impact on southern states is estimated at: Georgia (38,500), Tennessee (10,370), Alabama (6,220), Arizona (53,880), South Carolina (7,530), Mississippi (2,040), Louisiana (4,320), Arkansas (6,860).
This is available for all undocumented/illegal immigrants in Alabama, not just Mexican. The reports shows that of Alabama’s estimated 6,220 when categorized by Country/Region of Origin the results will be: Mexico (4,990), Other North and Central America (390), Asia (440), South America (250), Europe (90), and other regions (70).
“Here in Alabama the way that this will work is that HB 56 and HB 658 have passed the State House and obviously this has harmed the immigrant community, documented or not,” said Palafox. “So, as far as the undocumented community goes it would provide a breath of fresh air. E-verify is now in effect, students are banned from public university and this would be an opportunity for us to be productive members of our community here in the state of Alabama.”
Under HB56 and HB658 undocumented students were not allowed to attend state universities. DREAM would allow these students to return to school by providing them a work permit required by the statutes. It is possible that they may also be eligible for in-state tuition.
According to the USCIS website applicants must:
1) Be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012. You must be at least 15 years of age, with some exceptions.*
2) Have come into the U.S. before the age of 16.
3) Have lived in the U.S. permanently since June 15, 2012. Some travel acceptable.*
4) Have been physically in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and when applying for deferred action.
5) Have entered the U.S. without inspection before June 15, 2012 or have had their lawful immigration status expire since then.
6) Be currently enrolled in school at the time of the request. Also eligible are individuals who have graduated from high school, obtained a GED certificate, or are a honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces.
Have not been convicted of a felony, “significant misdemeanor, 3 or more other misdemeanors,” and/or are not seen as a threat to national security or public safety.
Palafox said that they were concerned when the policy was first made available that there would be attempts to defraud communities.
“At first I wasn’t sure whether that would be happening or not. But, as we traveled the state of Alabama giving Deferred Action workshops to immigrant communities we learned that this was a little bit more widespread than we thought. For example, you would have lawyers from Chattanooga, TN, going down to Lineville, to Ashland, trying to get the immigrant community there to pay $5,000, $10,000, or $50,000 for essentially snake oil. Even now we are still getting cases where people are being charged $2,000,” said Palafox. He said that it is a matter of educating communities and providing them with information to seek legitimate advice.
For those wishing to apply forms are available from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) at www.uscis.gov.
According to USCIS, the application consists of:
1) A completed and signed, Form I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival. Forms should include evidence to support that you meet all 7 guidelines of eligibility.
2) Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
3) Form I-765WS, Worksheet (which establishes your economic need for employment)
Filing fees for Form I-765, which total to $465.
All applicants will undergo a background check. Denied applicants will not be placed in removal proceeding but under “exceptional circumstances” may be referred to ICE.
“Now it is just a matter of making sure that people are informed and to make the process as smooth as it possibly can be. So, there will be a lot of following up to do in the immigrant community to see what we are able to do longterm,” said Palafox. “This is temporary. There is nothing guaranteed or set in stone. So, if at any point it is decided that it should be taken away, it can be taken away at any time.”
Palafox said that the main message is to keep fighting. Not only here in Alabama but throughout the rest of the country because “there are people who were left out by a matter of days.” Since there is an age limit to qualify many who have been in the United States under the same circumstances will not qualify for this program.
“There were people who were left out because the returned to their country after years of broken promises and a lack of hope. People who have been fighting in the struggle for over a decade have aged out. They are not going to be able to apply. So this is a temporary relief and we just have to keep fighting,” Palafox concludes.
Palafox and his colleagues plan to continue to travel throughout Alabama holding Deferred Action seminars in communities to further educate individuals on how to legally, properly apply.
Three mental health crisis centers coming to Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville
“Today marks a culture change in Alabama for treatment of individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders,” Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear said.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced an $18 million project to create three new mental health crisis centers to be located in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville.
These centers, once in operation, will reduce the number of people suffering from mental health crises who are hospitalized or jailed, Ivey said during a press briefing in front of the Capitol Building in Montgomery.
“When these facilities are open and fully staffed, these centers will become a safe haven for people facing mental health challenges,” Ivey said.
Lynn Beshear, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Mental Health, said during the briefing that the centers will provide “recovery based” care with “short term stays of a few hours, or up to a few days, to provide treatment, support, and connection to care in the community.”
“Today marks a culture change in Alabama for treatment of individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders,” Beshear said.
Beshear said AltaPointe Health in Mobile will operate one of the three facilities, and once built it is to serve Mobile, Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Monroe and Washington counties with 21 new beds, including 15 temporary observation beds. Altapointe will begin with a temporary space while constructing the new facilities, she said.
Beshear said the Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority is partnering with the East Alabama Mental Health Authority and the Central Alabama Mental Health Authority to serve the 11 counties in Region 3 with 21 new beds, including 10 temporary observation and respite beds.
“The regional crisis center will be located in Montgomery, and will be open to walk-ins and for drop off by law enforcement, first responders and referrals from emergency rooms,” Beshear said.
Wellstone Behavioral Health in Huntsville was selected to open the third center, and will do so at a temporary site while a new facility is being built, with the help of an additional $2.1 million from local governments, Beshear said. That facility will eventually have 39 beds, including 15 for temporary observation and 24 for extended observation.
“There’s not a day that goes by that after-hours care is not an issue in our state,” said Jeremy Blair, CEO of Wellstone Behavioral Health, speaking at the press conference. “And so I applaud the Department of Mental Health and the leaders for their efforts in recognizing that and taking it a step further and funding our efforts here.”
Asked by a reporter why a center wasn’t located in Jefferson County, one of the most populous counties with a great need for such a center, Ivey said those residents will be served in one of the other regions.
“Plans are underway to continue this effort. Today’s beginning, with these three crisis centers, is just the beginning,” Ivey said.
Ivey added that request for proposals were sent out for these three centers and “it was a strong competition for the location of these three crisis centers.”
Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said during the briefing that more than a year ago, Ivey asked him what the state should be looking at, and that he replied “we’re failing miserably in mental health.”
Ledbetter said Ivey asked him to take on the challenge of correcting the state’s response to mental health, and a team was created to do just that.
“Working together, today’s announcement will not only change Alabamians lives, but will help to save lives,” Ledbetter said.
Ainsworth returns to work after testing positive for COVID
Ainsworth’s office on Sept. 21 announced he had tested positive earlier that week, having been tested after someone in his Sunday school class tested positive for the disease.
Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Wednesday announced that he was returning to work that day and had met public health requirements for quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19 some time last week.
Ainsworth’s office on Sept. 21 announced he had tested positive earlier that week, having been tested after someone in his Sunday school class tested positive for the disease.
“While many have battled with coronavirus, my symptoms never progressed beyond some mild congestion that I usually experience with seasonal allergies,” Ainsworth said in a statement. “During the quarantine period, I participated in several Zoom calls, caught up on some office work, spent some quality time with my family, and completed a number of overdue projects on my farm.”
Members of Ainsworth’s staff who were in close contact with him haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 but will remain in quarantine for a full 14-day period as a precaution, according to a press release from Ainsworth’s office Wednesday.
“Ainsworth once again urges all Alabamians to practice personal responsibility, which may include wearing masks, maintaining social distancing whenever possible, and taking other precautions to lessen chances of exposure to COVID-19,” the press release states.
Ainsworth still disagrees with Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask mandate, he said. According to the release, he considers such orders “a one-size-fits-all governmental overreach that erodes basic freedoms and liberties while removing an individual’s right to make their own health-related choices.”
The wearing of cloth or medical masks has been proven to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 and the more people who wear masks, the better. While not perfect, masks limit the spread of respiratory droplets that may contain infectious virus shed from the nose and mouth of the mask wearer.
It is possible — even likely — for symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and mildly symptomatic people to spread the virus. That’s why it’s important to wear a mask even when you’re not sick.
Cloth masks offer only minimal protection from others who are not masked, meaning that masks are not simply a matter of personal safety but safety of others. Masks are also only effective when worn over both the mouth and the nose. [Here’s a guide on how to wear masks properly.]
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told Ivey after she announced the statewide mask order that it was a “brilliant” idea. The order has been credited by Alabama infectious disease experts as having dramatically reduced the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks after the order went into effect.
Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told APR on Tuesday that from personal observation he is seeing more people not wearing masks, or wearing them improperly, and said the state could dramatically reduce the risk of COVID-19 if the public regularly wore masks and wore them properly.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday crossed the 1,000 mark for the first time since Aug. 31 — a sign that Alabama may be headed for another peak in hospitalizations as the state prepares for winter and flu season.
Faith in Action Alabama calls on law enforcement to protect voters from harassment
“In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.”
Nine clergy members from across the state have signed an open letter calling on local and state law enforcement to protect voters against intimidation and harassment at the polls.
The clergy are leaders in Faith in Action Alabama, a regional association of Christian congregations affiliated with the national group Faith in Action, the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the country. It seeks to address a range of issues like gun violence, health care, immigration and voting rights.
This is their letter:
Across our country and here in Alabama, it is being seen that citizens are turning out in record numbers to vote early and by absentee ballots. It is very heartening to see so many of our fellow citizens energized and committed to exercising that most fundamental and critical duty of citizenship, the use of their franchise. As servant leaders of an ecumenical association of nearly 2,000 faith communities across our state we are certainly encouraging our congregants to fulfill this duty either through early, absentee or day of election voting. For us this is not only part of our civic duty, but as people of faith obligation as well.
Unfortunately, it it also largely known that there are forces in our country that are actively, publicly and fervently at work to suppress the votes of some of our fellow citizens. We write to implore you to use the full authority of your office and department to ensure that those who seek to vote, especially on November 3, 2020 are not assailed or intimidated by illegal harassment in their polling places. We believe these threats are pervasive enough and real enough that proactive measures should be in place as citizens come to vote throughout that day. The strong, visible presence of uniformed legitimate law officers will hopefully prevent any attempts at confrontation or intimidation and violence.
The history of our state is marked by the efforts of tens of thousands of Alabamians who marched, protested, brought legal actions, shed their blood and some even gave their lives that every citizen of this state might have full and free access to the ballot box. In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.
Please be assured of our prayers for you and the men and women of your department who have the awesome responsibility of providing public safety and equal protection under the law for every Alabamian. If we, the members of Faith in Action Alabama’s Clergy Leadership Team, can be of assistance please do not hesitate to call upon us.
Rev. Jeremiah Chester, St. Mark Baptist Church, Huntsville
Rev. David Frazier, Sr., Revelation Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile, and Moderator, Mobile Baptist Sunlight Association
Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Bishop Russell Kendrick, Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast
Bishop Seth O. Lartey, Alabama-Florida Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
President Melvin Owens, Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention
Bishop Harry L. Seawright, Ninth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
Dr. A.B. Sutton, Jr., Living Stones Temple, Fultondale
Father Manuel Williams, C.R., Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South, Montgomery
Report: Alabama’s Black Belt lags behind state in economic prospects
Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.
It took Marquis Forge five years and 18 banks before he and his partner were able to open their company, Eleven86 Water, in Autauga County, just north of the Black Belt, and a report released Tuesday shows how Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.
Forge, a former University of Alabama football player, told reporters during a briefing Monday that he considers Autauga County, which borders the Black Belt’s Lowndes County, part of the Black Belt, and said it shouldn’t have been so difficult to access the capital needed to start a business.
The report released Tuesday by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center titled “Black Belt manufacturing and Economic Prospects” is the last in the center’s Black Belt 2020 series, and found that only four of the state’s 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the center, are above the statewide average of 22.4 businesses per 1,000 residents, and just one, Montgomery County, was above the 2018 statewide average of personal income of $43,229.
Researchers also found that just three Black Belt counties are above the state’s average in gross domestic product being produced by counties of $45,348.
“To achieve Governor Ivey’s ambitious goal of 500,000 a million more Alabama workers with skills by 2025, all hands have to be ‘on deck.’ It will require higher labor force participation rates, particularly in the Black Belt, where the average is 20 points below the statewide average,” said Stephen Katsinas, director of the university’s Education Policy Center and one of the authors of the report.
“Due to smaller economies of scale, our approaches to education, workforce development, and community building will have to be different to reach Alabama’s Black Belt,” Katsinas continued. “In the longer term, we first must define the Black Belt, because you can’t measure what you can’t define. Then we must do what West Alabama Works is doing–go where the people are to bring hope by connecting them to a well-aligned lifelong learning system that makes work pay.”
Donny Jones, COO of Chamber of Commerce West Alabama and Executive Director of West AlabamaWorks, told reporters Monday that one of the keys to helping the Black Belt will be helping state and Congressional legislators understand the nuances of rural Alabama.
Jones said the state should look at how colleges are graded, and that many smaller colleges don’t get credit for putting students through programs that get them short-term certificates that lead to jobs.
“Those are some of the things on the statewide level that we can really start to work on,” Jones said, adding that they’ve already begun teaching modern manufacturing in Black Belt high schools that gives students college credits toward an associates degree while still in high school.
“I think that’s very important for individuals to understand the impact that we can have in our higher ed and our K-12 system, really works hand in glove to move the needle for workforce development,” Jones said.
Jim Purcell, State Higher Education executive officer of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, told reporters that it’s also important to look at one’s own community and identifying what is “unique and special,” and said he was recently in Autauga County, where he is from, and bought two cases of Eleven86 Water because he remembered how good the water there was.
“I think that’s what you’ve done, is you’ve taken the gift that Autauga’s environment has and enhanced it, so that the people can benefit from it,” Purcell said to Forge. “I think that’s the key.”
Asked what he’d tell state legislators to spur them to make changes so that other entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to struggle as hard as he did to open a business, Forge said he would ask for a clearer path for assistance.
“Instead of digging down through a tunnel with a spoon I would have someone outline the tracks on getting funds and assistance from local, state and the national level, because there are funds out there,” Forge said.
After going to 18 banks to get the financing he needed, he still had to liquify all his assets to make it happen, Forge said.
“How many people are going to do that?” he asked. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”
To read all of the Education Policy Center’s reports on Alabama’s Black Belt, visit here.