News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Monday, August 29, 2011

Alabama joins the Hall of Shame -- again

The state of Alabama where Governor George Wallace once proudly claimed "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," has enacted the nation's harshest anti-immigrant law, keeping alive a shameful tradition of unvarnished prejudice.

Anyone who doubts this law is little more than legislated prejudice should consider this: The total number of undocumented workers in Alabama is 120,000 or approximately 5% of the state's labor force according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Alabama ranks 31st among states in estimated number of undocumented immigrants. Moreover, unauthorized immigration has declined sharply across the U.S. since the mid-decade. So this is hardly a pressing economic or social issue in Alabama. This is about stoking xenophobia for political gain. 

The new Alabama law gives legal precendence to a widely spread nativist myth: It makes working without a visa a crime. In truth, working without "papers" is not a felony or even a misdemeanor. It is a civil violation, like jaywalking or simple speeding. 

But that inconvenient truth has not stopped Alabama's legislators from wading into the filthy pit of bigotry in hopes of pandering votes from the ignorant and hateful. 

According to the New York Times, the law "effectively makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Alabama, by criminalizing working, renting a home and failing to comply with federal registration laws that are largely obsolete. It nullifies any contracts when one party is an undocumented immigrant. It requires the police to check the papers of people they suspect to be here illegally.

The new regime does not spare American citizens. Businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants will lose their licenses. Public school officials will be required to determine students’ immigration status and report back to the state. Anyone knowingly “concealing, harboring or shielding” an illegal immigrant could be charged with a crime, say for renting someone an apartment or driving her to church or the doctor."

Unfortunately, it's likely we will see more of these laws. Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia have already joined the Hall of Shame and passed similar hate-mongering legislation. At a time when we should be recognizing and embracing our diversity, many mainstream Americans are building barricades to protect what they mistakenly perceive as a threat to their primacy. 

This knee-jerk reaction has been repeated numerous times throughout U.S. history. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin's tirades against the newly-arriving Germans in Pennsylvannia, through the hatred and violence heaped on subsequent immigrant groups from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe, everytime the U.S. foreign born population tops ten percent, it spawns a round of nativist backlash. 

Perhaps most astonishing is the consistency of the nativist laments. Without fail, each newly-arriving group is accused of being unwilling to assimilate, of breeding faster than the native born, and of bringing disease, crime and corruption. 

Sadly, it seems we will suffer through another shameful spasm of fear and hatred once again.  

Raul Ramos y Sanchez


Tomás said...

When in a time of crisis, we fall back on what we know and do best. These are long traditions in the South, as they are elsewhere in this nation.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez said...

Excellent point, Tomas. Scapegoating by Alabama's politician helps keep people distracted from the state's traditional bottom of the barrel performance in most social markers such as infant mortality, high school graduation rates, and people living in poverty.