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Alabama immigration law foes seek automakers' support

By Joe Sutton, CNN
updated 12:01 AM EST, Wed February 29, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Groups ask Alabama's auto industry to help overturn illegal immigrant law
  • Two auto officials are detained in separate incidents since law is passed
  • "We are not asking them to take to the streets ... (we are) seeking to become allies," La Raza official says

(CNN) -- Groups seeking to repeal a controversial Alabama immigration law are asking the state's highly influential auto manufacturing industry to join their cause.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote letters to all three of the state's foreign-owned automakers highlighting that the bill has created "widespread racial profiling and other discrimination ... particularly against anyone suspected of being foreign in Alabama."

The National Council of La Raza, the NAACP, the United Auto Workers and the Southern Poverty Law Center have requested meetings with auto executives hoping to discuss how the bill is affecting the state's image and, potentially, its economy.

"Your leadership in the area of social justice is required to help undo the damage caused by H.B. 56," the groups say in an open letter to Honda, Daimler AG and Hyundai executives. "Unless we work together to rein in this growing intolerance, the acts of intimidation against foreigners in Alabama and in other states will continue."

Lisa Navarrete, a spokeswoman for La Raza, said, "We are not asking them to take to the streets... (we are) seeking to become allies."

She noted that executives from two of the automakers "have experienced firsthand what the consequences of this law are," and that their experience "played a part" in the campaign to enlist their support.

Last year, police in Tuscaloosa pulled over a Mercedes-Benz executive because of a problem with the tag on the rental car he was driving, and detained him when he didn't have proper identification on hand. (Mercedes is a division of Daimler AG).

A Honda official was detained in another incident.

Mercedes representatives did not return repeated e-mails or a phone call from CNN requesting comment about the groups' outreach. Honda did not return e-mails.

Chris Hosford, a spokesman for Hyundai, confirmed in an e-mail that the company had received the groups' letter and said the company does not take a position on the immigration law one way or the other.

H.B. 56, which became law in September 2011, is widely considered to be one of the toughest illegal immigration laws in the country. It allows police to ask for legal status in certain situations and voids contracts if one party is not in the country legally.

Most of the law has thus far withstood court scrutiny, but an appeals court has issued an injunction against enforcing a requirement that public schools ask for the citizenship status of new students.

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