MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Both sides of the debate over state immigration law are scheduled to have their say before a federal panel today in Birmingham, but an Alabama group yesterday afternoon criticized the line-up as devoid of immigrant voices but inclusive of a "hate group."
The United States Commission on Civil Rights will hold a public panel today in Birmingham on the effects of recently enacted state immigration laws. The speakers include Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, who sponsored Alabama's immigration law, Kansas Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach, local officials and others.
However, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice in a press conference said the panelists were not reflective of the human cost of such laws.
"The panels are very one sided when it comes to the anti-immigrant viewpoint and not very well represented with people who are either pro-immigrant or people who are actually affected by the laws the commission is coming to discuss," said Zayne Smith, coordinator, Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
The Southern Poverty Law Center specifically criticized the inclusion of a representative of the Washington D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform on the panel
SPLC designated the organization as an anti-immigrant hate group. In making the designation the SPLC noted comments from founders as well as FAIR taking money up until 1994 from the Pioneer Fund, which was established in 1937 to advance the scientific study of heredity and human differences.
"FAIR's racist connections run very, very deep," said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Centers Intelligence Project.
FAIR President Dan Stein said the accusation was unfounded.
"The only thing worse than people who are engaged in slander and defamation and invective are organizations that out of one side of their mouths preach tolerance while engaging in gross intolerance at the same time," Stein said.
Stein said he plans to tell the panel that his group is extremely proud of Alabama.
"We feel very strongly that state partnerships with the executive branch are vital if we are ever going to achieve viable immigration laws," Stein said.
However, Isabel Rubio, Executive Director, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, who is on the panel said Alabama lawmakers "tromped on the civil rights of not just immigrants in Alabama, but U.S.-born citizens and legal permanent residents" in passing Alabama's law.
"Make no mistake these laws are about race," said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center
Hincapie said allowing state and local police officers to enforce immigration laws is an invitation to racial profiling on a massive scale.
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The commission is charged with investigating and making recommendations concerning civil rights. The commissioners are appointed by the president president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives.
Each panelists will have a few minutes to express their point of view and then commissioners will ask questions.
A spokeswoman for the commission said speakers for briefings are selected for their expertise and to reflect a wide variety of viewpoints.
"To our know knowledge as staff there are no people we consider as members of hate groups speaking," said Lenore Ostrowsky acting chief, Public Affairs Unit
The event begins at 9 a.m. at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel