The town of Kilpatrick, Alabama was known as “Little Mexico” or “Little Tijauna.” Many Hispanics moved to the town 75 miles away from Birmingham to work in the chicken processing plants. Signs in spanish advertised food and services, and children spoke mostly spanish. The school system was nearly 60 percent Hispanic (even though they made up 4 percent of the state population).
Sentiment among native Alabamans was that the new residents were illegal immigrants who were not only a drain on public services, they were taking jobs that poor whites used to have.
This ostensibly led to strict state laws surrounding immigration. Essentially, law enforcement would have the power to stop anyone and check their immigration status. They would also be able to detain suspected illegals indefinitely. While this appeased conservatives, it was not enforced strictly due to lack of resources.
Nevertheless, a polite sense of animosity against Hispanics remained…until the storm.
On March 18, 2013 two EF2 tornadoes touched down in Kilpatrick, leveling 19 homes and severely damaging scores of others. Amidst the destruction, immigrants and natives found themselves working side by side to deliver food, clear debris and rescue injured people who were trapped in the wreckage.
Indeed, some immigrants were terrified by the sight of so many authorities. They initially though that local sheriffs and state police were there to arrest them and deport them. However, they found that everyone was battling the same circumstances, and were like the people who had lived in the region for generations.
Through hardship a community learned how to come together.
Source: ABC News.com, Twister heals Alabama town fractured by immigration, May 28, 2013