Universal Rights Extend to Alabama

by Secretary Hilda Solis on December 21, 2011 · 19 comments

In a widely noticed human rights speech this month in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton articulated U.S. policy on the fundamental rights of all people living in the world.

She said, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights … rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people. It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, governments are bound to protect them.”

These basic rights extend to immigrants living in Alabama.

This April, Alabama legislators voted to make it a felony punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison for any undocumented immigrant living in the state to enter into a “business transaction.” That means signing a lease for an apartment or paying a utility bill.

By June, Governor Robert Bentley had signed H.B. 56 into law.

Imprisoning those who seek shelter and basic sustenance runs counter to the universal rights of all free people. It’s beneath the dignity of this great nation.

The Alabama measure is considered the strictest anti-immigrant bill to ever become law in the United States. It requires public schools—from elementary schools to public universities—to check the immigration status of those attempting to enroll. It prohibits landlords from renting to those without legal immigration status, or risk one year in prison for doing so. Anyone can be pulled over by the police who has a “reasonable suspicion” that they may not be in the U.S. legally.

As a result of this law, Alabamians are abandoning their jobs, agricultural fields are thinning, crops are going bad, businesses are closing, investors are looking elsewhere and students aren’t showing up to school. Parents are packing up and fleeing the state, leaving behind their homes and the hope of a better life for their children.

Entrepreneurs and executives in the United States and abroad are thinking twice about bringing their business to Alabama—an enormous problem for a state and a nation seeking to create jobs and recover economically.

Some state legislators who voted for the law say they are now having second thoughts as the economic repercussions are being felt. However, until the law is changed or the courts strike it down, it’s critical that all workers in Alabama know their federal rights.

Alabama’s law invalidates employment contracts for undocumented workers who are guaranteed the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour under the Fair Labor Standards Act. As a result, unscrupulous employers are taking advantage of Alabama’s immigration law to deny workers the wages they have earned and, under federal law, continue to be legally owed.

Our federal government—under both Republican and Democratic presidents—has long held that all people working in this country have the right to the federal minimum wage, regardless of immigration status. And federal courts, including the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals covering Alabama, have all agreed. The Supreme Court decided 56 years ago that workers in America can’t give up their right to a minimum wage, not even if they sign a contract saying that they will take less.

It’s important for people in Alabama to understand that they still have a legal right to be paid for all hours they work. This includes waiting time, training time and work performed at home.  Employers who violate this right are breaking federal law.

Tipped workers, like restaurant staff and parking valets, have to be paid at least $2.13 an hour plus enough tips to make the full minimum wage.

Farm workers must have their wages paid on time. Employers must provide their terms of employment in writing. And, if an employer provides housing or transportation, it must be safe.

Anyone who has worked in Alabama whose right to the federal minimum wage or overtime pay has been violated should call the U.S. Department of Labor at (205) 397-7114 or visit us at www.dol.gov.

The Obama administration is fighting Alabama’s unconstitutional law in federal court. While some provisions of H.B. 56 have been temporarily blocked, the majority of the law remains in effect. Families across the country await the outcome. Many have left Alabama and will never return, but others are hopeful for a better future.

While we wait, the Department of Labor will vigorously protect the right of all workers in Alabama to have their federal right to a legal wage protected.

For as Secretary Clinton said, “When we see denials and abuses of human rights and fail to act, that sends the message to those deniers and abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for their actions, and so they carry on. But when we do act, we send a powerful moral message.”

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bobby December 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Gregg, your message is mine also, and it blows me away that so many Americans would so easily be deceived by the agenda of people involved in racial power politics. I don’t want to have to speak Spanish, and I know that millions of other Americans don’t either, in order to get employment or for any other reason. I like our historical culture the way it was and still is. I doubt black people who have a long history, don’t care about Spanish. I doubt people from the Orient, India, etc. that have learned English and speak it very well, care about Spanish either. But we are being driven towards an agenda that is not an American one.

2 eaglesglen December 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I believe that “Imprisoning those who seek shelter and basic sustenance runs counter to the universal rights of all free people. It’s beneath the dignity of this great nation.” is very wrong. Dignity is for those who do not break the law.
Wait until the U.S. Fed and their illegal aliens (that the Fed coddles) have to pay American citizens (who own the U.S.A.) for the Fed illegal use of the U.S.A. by the Fed huge illegal alien economic engine. Looks like conversion of property to me? What property? Conversion of use of the U.S.A. for/by fed illegal purpose.
Suppose you and/or Sheriff Arpaio gets an injunction against the U.S. Fed illegal use of the U.S.A. and/or Arizona and/or Maricopa County by the Fed huge illegal alien economic engine? Especially until after the Fed pays FMV (fair market value) for the illegal use of the U.S.A..

3 Bobby December 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Mrs. Solis, what about existing United States immigration law and the fact that Alabama is following it, but you are advocating against it? Why don’t you read what it says about people that take your position. If you don’t like certain laws Congress created, by the will of the majority, than you should work to change those existing laws, not work against them while they are valid and enforceable. That is what states like Alabama are doing.

4 Bob Ogden December 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Excellent post. I hope Alabama’s governor and state legislature read it. The Alabama law is dreadful.

5 Bobby December 21, 2011 at 10:20 pm

It seems my views (concerns) were eliminated. Why? I questioned things like why there are signs in Spanish, in almost every major business in California, and how Spanish seems to be a requirement for employement in thousands upon thousands of businesses in California. Too politically incorrect to ask these questions, and the effects these issues will have on many American citizens?

6 Bobby December 21, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Now my comments have returned. Whatever.

7 Michael Earl Jones December 22, 2011 at 12:32 am

Why is government so concerned with people not born in America; There are people that was born and reared in America, the problem we are having in America is administrative prejudices!!! We are slaves to the many businesses because of past criminal history. When is America going to speak for the many voters who paid there debt to society, restored rights.Why must one still pay. Illegal immigration have more rights than Americans who not so good background .It is time to speak for Americans,that are here struggling for the Dreams that is given so freely to others.

8 immigration attorney chicago December 22, 2011 at 12:46 am

All the decision made in recent past by government and statement of Hillary Clinton is not matching at all. So Government should make sure that their work and statement must match.

9 cc December 22, 2011 at 8:12 am

My grandfather came to this country in 1923….legally….became a citizen and paid his taxes. We followed suite in 1954. We also came legally and became citizens. Nothing was given to us in fact discrimination faced us at every turn. My dad had to take every menial job he could find just to provide the basic needs for his family. Too bad my ancestors didn’t just wait and come today instead…huh?

I think I would be disgracing the memory of my family if I didn’t speak up.

Thanks you.

10 Amanda December 22, 2011 at 9:20 am

As a proud Veteran of the Vietnam era war and a Latino American I say it’s about time someone speaks out on behalf of the Latinos in Alabama and against this discriminatory Law. It’s ignorant to think that all immigrants are illegal. Fact is that only 3.7% of all immigrants in our great country are illegal (including Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, and Latin American). But the racist propaganda machine would have you think that we are overrun with illegals taking over our jobs and take advantage of social services, this thinking is not even close to reality!
What were the legislators of Alabama thinking? Just as troubling is that the legislators were both African American and White in a state that was in the forefront of the Civil Rights movement, a state that historically struggled for the rights of African Americans and all minorities… and now the very supporters of the Civil Rights movement voted to discriminate! Such social and christen values are nothing if not hypercritical. Shame on the minority leadership and so called Christen value leaders that allowed this law to pass. I was born in this country, served in the military, have always had a job, pay my bills and taxes and yet I have to worry that I will be pulled over and questioned about my citizenship, questioned at the DMV, my children’s school… forced to carry around my birth certificate or passport… Ridiculous! Enough already, this county was built by immigrants and 96.3% of them have followed our laws of entry and like me are productive citizens… Laws like the one Arizona and Alabama really target all of us… I ask you how American is that?

11 Gregg December 22, 2011 at 10:25 am

Secretary clinton stated “When we see denials and abuses of rights,and fail to act ,that sends the message to those abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for there actions”
Ms Solis this is exactley what my employer knew about DOL/OSHA whistleblower protection program that it has no teeth so they wallked all over our rights.They also knew how DOL/OSHA will try to discredit the whistleblower any way the can like in our DOL/OSHA whistleblower case.
My empployer came up with three diffrent accusations and i proved with company documentation they were false.Then this employer fires me for suposedly sending out an unsafe fork lift but i prove with company documentation they rushed out this fork lift out on rent and this is after i had already served a three day suspension for this and DOL/OSHA only takes there position even after i provided years indisputible company documentation and time lines of how this employer was knowingly renting unsafe forklifts to the public Ms Solis. Can they punish you twice for the same false accusation Ms Solis and lets not forget that i was handed that three day suspension in there confrence room with no union representation even after i requsted it by two company managers and told i was getting it for contacting OSHA.Then your investigator in washington called me on three different occasaions on the same accusation to try and twist my story to fit DOL/OSHA needs so DOL/OSHA could drop our case.The U.S department of the interrior investigator general for whistleblower protection stated about the accusations”I can not believe DOL/OSHA could not see through those accusations,there weak at best”. Can i get my day in court Ms Solis can i have that right please?
Secretary Clinton also stated above “But when we do act ,we send a powerful moral message”
It’s obvious Ms Solis DOL will not protect our rights so could you please forward all my comments on this blog site to Secretary Clinton and i could see if her actions are as powerful as her words?
Gregg
PROUD NAVY DAD

12 Jim Donahue December 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Dear Ms. Solis, Having a State, such as Alabama passing a law to protect its own citizens is a State’s right. It is as American as apple pie. If you disagree with the law, this is your right, but to infer that this law denies basic human rights is a joke at the least and deceptive at the worst.

This law is intended to DISCOURAGE illegal immigration, and this is a concept that the DOL needs to uphold – even if you do not agree with the premise. Our US Labor force is under enough pressure, and Americans need to work. A State trying to protect its borders is not an illegal activity – on the contrary – it is what we expect our elected leaders to do.

We are trying ot restore dignity yo our workers and our country. Your warped view, in my opinion, is what causes more problems than solutions.

13 Gregg December 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Thanks for the support Bobby,but have you read Solis’s speeches where she starts off with a spanish comments? To think she is in charge of The U.S Department of Labor!

But i have another question Ms Solis in reguards how that DOL/OSHA investigator in washington tried three times to twist my story to fit DOL needs so to drop our case.
It is called “Whistleblower Potection Program” right?,not employer protection Ms Solis? “Mucho Gracias senyourita Solis” ,not shure i wrote that correctly,but after all i’m an American! and Born and raised in the city where it all started”Philadelphia”where i often visit Ben Franklin’s grave and lets not forget what ben always stated “If we all don’t hang together,Shuredly we’ll all hang separetly”
Gregg
PROUD NAVY DAD

14 Javier December 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Secretary,

My family still in Mexico needs help more than myself. The living conditions are bad. Fear is everywhere with drug kings controlling the streets. I came to america to find a better life but my family is still there suffering. Conditions are worse there than here. Please send the military to battle the cartels and our dictator fox. This year was great elsewhere in the world with freedom ringing in Libya, Egypt, and Iraq. I want to return home but need your president’s help.

15 Gregg December 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm

One more thing Bobby,How long do you think till they shut down this comment section for them taking too much heat?
They want to deny us are rights any way they can! I’m surprised it lasted this long!
Thanks Gregg
PROUD NAVY DAD

16 Jack December 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Amanda: Whatever happened to entering the United States legally? I am also a Vietnam vet and I believe that if they came illegally, then they need to leave legally in the custody of ICE or voluntarily. No one here illegally should get a free pass ahead of the applicants waiting to enter the country the right way. It is sad that folks like you would defend illegal aliens. Please quit trying to use false analogies to defend your support of people who have broken our immigration laws, compounded by the use of fraudulent official state and federal ID and/or stolen identity which is a felony. I took an oath when I entered the military to uphold and defend our constitution. Please tell me what part of the constitution encourages violating our laws?

PS: You must be following the La Raza script to the tee to use the fear mongering argument that you need to carry your passport and birth certificate where ever you go. You know already that your driver’s license is satisfactory evidence of your legal residency.

17 Gery Galarza December 25, 2011 at 7:34 pm

This is another reason why we should not have politically appointed people to served in Government Offices. If you are undocumented should you be working here in the first place? You don’t have a SSN, unless you stole it from someone else and you need one to work legally in the US. Where are we going with all of this exceptions to our laws just to continue to justify the illegal presence in this country of 11+ million Illegal Immigrants. The Fed should just come on clean and tell the country that their final goal is to grant residency or even citizinship to all of them, after all, they are doing everything possible to help them violate all of our laws.

18 Daniel December 29, 2011 at 9:50 am

If the anti-immigrant people leaving messages here had read Secretary Solis’ comments carefully, they’d see that one of the things she objects to is the fact that the HB 56 law increases the likelihood that employers will pay illegal immigrants less than the minimum wage and that they’ll do so without creating any kind of employment documentation. If you increase the likelihood that illegal immigrants get paid less than minimum wage and are deprived of the rights enjoyed by citizens, then you increase the likelihood that they’ll get hired over a citizen demanding higher wages and benefits and proper working conditions. That’s one problem caused by HB 56. If employers have to give everyone — including illegal immigrants — the same pay, benefits, and working conditions, then there’s no incentive for them to hire illegals — except for work that U.S. citizens simply refuse to do.

This law also resulted in the arrest of a German Mercedes-Benz executive last month because he was driving without proper identification (though he was here legally). This made international headlines and made Alabama look completely ridiculous. (The state’s homeland security director, Spencer Collier, admitted that not having the proper identification would not have resulted in arrest prior to HB 56.) Those types of incidents do not make foreign corporations eager to set up shop in Alabama, and that is bad for the state economy.

And the people slamming Secretary Solis for having a Hispanic background basically prove that they’re racists. Secretary Solis is a citizen just like you, ladies and gentlemen. If she’s bilingual, that’s something to be proud of; unfortunately, judging by the spelling and grammatical errors in these posts, a lot of “red-blooded” Americans can’t even master English. I suppose your poor education is one of the reasons you feel threatened by illegal immigrants, but maybe a better solution to that problem would be for you all to educate yourselves — of course, that would require you to drop your contempt for people who are well-educated, and you probably don’t want to do that. It’s easier to blame foreigners and the government for your problems.

19 Michael January 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm

This law runs counter to simple economics; do you know how much it costs the state for someone to spend a single year behind bars? This could possibly happen to someone trying to sign a contract and rent a home (and therefore help the economy)? Seems counterproductive to me.

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