“Attention ALLwater customers: To be compliant with new laws concerning immigration you musthave an Alabama driver’s license or an Alabama picture ID card on file at thisoffice… or you may lose water service.” (Sign posted in the offices of apublic water company in the small town of Allgood, Alabama)
This warning is the manifestation of Section 30 of Alabama’sextreme anti-immigrant law, HB56, which makes it a felony for someone withoutproper immigration papers to try to enter into a “business transaction” withthe “state or political subdivision of the state.” While the law is unclear asto what exactly constitutes a “business transaction” or what state actors areaffected, it appears to include contracts with utility companies that provideAlabama residents with the basic essentials of life. Violation of this sectionis a Class C felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. This means thatundocumented people in Alabama may be incarcerated for a decade for trying toaccess running water for their homes.
Such denial of basic facilities is part of a harshreductionist strategy called “attrition through enforcement” which is designedto make life so difficult for immigrants that they will return to their homecountries. This doctrine was first articulated by the anti-immigrant Center forImmigration Studies in 2005, and has been increasingly advanced by hard-lineRepublican Congressmen who are vehemently opposed to comprehensive immigrationreform. Ultimately, the goal behind “attrition through enforcement” is toachieve the mass removal of millions of immigrants from the US.
This “self-deportation” avoids both the financial costs andbad press of rounding up immigrant families and deporting them. Hardliners hopethey will buy their own tickets because daily life in the US involves suchhardship. The fear and intentional dislocation that HB56 is designed to spur seemsto be working. Since the law went into effect, Latino families are leavingAlabama in droves. Businesses are closing; employers are wondering where theirworkers have gone, classroom desks are empty.
Access to clean water is considered a basic human right-just like the right to food and the right to live without torture. The UnitedNational General Assembly approved a resolution last year stating so. Althoughthe resolution is not legally enforceable, it symbolically places a politicalobligation on governments not to restrict access to clean drinking water toanyone who resides within its borders. Alabama’s law is, therefore, not onlyinhumane, but defies this commitment.
On October 5, the Department of Justice’s request thatimplementation of the law be suspended until the pending court cases areresolved, was rejected. While the appeal winds its way through the courts, theestimated 130,000 undocumented immigrants in Alabama are at risk of losing orbeing denied access to clean water. This is nothing short of a humanitariancrisis – right here at home – and virtually no one is reporting on it, exceptthe UK newspaper, The Guardian.Our astonishment that a circumscribed class of people in the US could betargeted for denial of water is rivaled only by our disappointment in the USmedia for failing to notice.