The mayor of Birmingham did not mince words.
Alabama's new immigration law echoed apartheid and Jim Crow laws, said Mayor William Bell.
Bell made his comments at an ad hoc hearing on Monday held by Democratic members of the House of Representatives.
Bell said that the law, passed this year by Alabama's Republican-controlled legislature, places financial burdens on cities and could force police officers to employ racial profiling.
Bell said the U.S. doesn't need immigration laws in 50 states, but rather one federal immigration law.
"We need to speak with one voice and we need to speak as Americans," he said.
Among the congressmen attending was Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., whose home state also passed a strict immigration law. He said Alabama's law is going to hurt the economy and the social fabric of the state.
"People are discovering that the rhetoric of hate is not making the country any better. It's making it worse," he said.
We need an immigration policy that does justice and fairness to the rich history of immigrants that we have here in the United States of America. An immigration policy that doesn't rip families apart.
- Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois
The congressional delegation's visit to Alabama was led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who is one of the most vocal proponents in Congress for laws that would give reprieve to undocumented immigrants and allow some who meet certain criteria to legalize their status.
Before arriving in Alabama, Gutierrez said in a written statement: "I am going to Alabama to stand with the good, decent people of Alabama to fight back and defend what I think is right and just."
Gutierrez, who chairs the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the country doesn't need a hodgepodge of policies.
"We need an immigration policy that does justice and fairness to the rich history of immigrants that we have here in the United States of America. An immigration policy that doesn't rip families apart," he said.
Later, at a rally at a Birmingham church against Alabama's immigration law, State Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, started the calls for the law to be repealed or revised. She said there was strong opposition to the law.
"We are the majority," she said. "They are the extremists."
Alabama Republican leaders said Monday the federal government should be sending Alabama thank you notes for addressing the problem of illegal immigration. The law requires police to detain people who can't prove they are in the country legally and prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving government services.
"Start thinking in terms of compassion for Americans whose lives would be better if we had a sound immigration policy and we enforced it," said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville.
One provision calls for schools to check the legal residency of new students.
"I was serving as a Sunday school teacher at my church and when HB56 came into effect, my classrooms became empty," Alma Martinez of Russellville told the delegation. "The students were crying."
Angie Baylon is an English as a second language teacher at two high schools. After the law passed, a number of her students stopped talking about going to college and instead look at possibly having to go back to the home country of their parents.
Rep. Al Green of Texas said the law "deserves to be placed on the trash heap of history."
This is based on a story by The Associated Press.