I spent 24 hours in Albertville, Ala., this week to document the reaction of President Obama’s sweeping changes to immigration policy for The New York Times. For this story, I worked with reporter Richard Fausset, a staffer with the Times. We believed there was a possibility of lots of celebration on the part of immigrants, especially those here illegally, considering Obama’s directive would shield many of them from the threat of deportation. But that wasn’t the case.
Above: Judy Bonilla (right) and Ernesto Linares (left) dine with family at La Orquidea restaurant while President Obama delivers his speech outlining his changes to immigration.
Not to say that illegal immigrants were not excited about the changes, because many definitely were, it was just subdued. Richard and I traversed this small town Thursday night and Friday, interviewing as many locals from as many different perspectives as possible. To say the least, the difference was vast.
Albertville, a small town of about 21,000, is 30 minutes north of Gadsden. It was chosen for this story because of it’s large population of immigrants, many of whom who work at the chicken plants scattered throughout Marshall County. Gainesville, Ga., which also has a large migrant population, has a similar story. But it’s not just the high percentage of Hispanics who live in Albertville that make it worth investigating. It’s also because Albertville is a typical Southern town, full of conservative folks, many of whom have little tolerance for anyone living here illegally. That dichotomy has become a large piece of the fabric that is Alberville.
Quotes and some other text below are taken from Fauset’s article.
“It has been the saddest thing for so many people who were here, and in every other way following the laws,” said Alejandro Silvestre, 36, a Guatemalan-born father of three and an owner of a strip-mall cellphone shop. “But they got grabbed and sent back to Guatemala or Mexico and their families stayed here. Sometimes their kids were raised by others. For me, thank God, that has never happened. But one is always thinking of that.”
The handful of retirees who call themselves the “R.O.M.E.O. Group,” (Retired Old Men Eating Out), gather at McDonald’s and discuss, among other things, politics. All of them that we spoke with despised Obama’s immigration changes and just about everything the President has done. Joey Hartline (far right, in top photo), a local contractor, called Obama’s action an act of “domestic terrorism.” “He needs to be arrested and tried for treason,” he said.
“It’s wrong,” added Julian Campbell, 80 (left, in top photo). “What about the people who come here and done it right?”
“A lot of people don’t like us because we’re illegal,” said Maria Garcia, 29, a server at El Sol King Pollo. “But now we can emerge from the shadows, we can go into the streets without fear.” White people, she said, often say that people like her do not pay taxes. No more. “Now we will pay like any other person,” she said, adding: “It’s going to change this place a lot.”
Osvaldo Conales (right) and Hugo Fuentes Luna prepare orders in the kitchen at El Sol King Pollo restaurant. Gabriela Watson, an attorney who specializes in immigration law in Albertville, Ala., talks with Martin Juan Domas about how the changes President Obama announced will affect him. Watson said the phones at her firm were “ringing off the hook” on Friday, the day after Obama’s announcement.
“Well, hell yeah, a big majority of them’s dirty,” said Kyle Davis, a former state trooper. He was asked what effect the action might have on Albertville. “It’s not going to get any better. That’s pretty simple.”