Midterm Wave Washes Alabama's Immigrants/Economy Away

It's not just happening on Wall Street. Americans everywhere are feeling the impact of the midterm wave and not liking it. State senator Scott Beason got an earful from fourth-generation farmers Monday -- red-state salt-of-the-Earth folk who

It's not just happening on Wall Street. Americans everywhere are feeling the impact of the midterm wave and not liking it.

State senator Scott Beason got an earful from fourth-generation farmers Monday -- red-state salt-of-the-Earth folk who call themselves conservative. In Steele, Alabama, tomato farmer Leroy Smith offered Beason a bucket and asked him to experience the hard work immigrant laborers do:

Beason declined but promised to see what could be done to help farmers while still trying to keep illegal immigrants out of Alabama.

Smith threw down the bucket he offered Beason and said, "There, I figured it would be like that."

Readers may remember Scott Beason as the man who wanted to "empty the clip" on illegal immigration and referred to black people as "aborigines." In Alabama, his name has new meaning these days: "Beason lines" are where Alabamians who used to renew their car tags on the internet miss work to wait in long lines at courthouses because the law requires us to present proof of citizenship.

HB 56 is creating First and Third World problems at the same time:

The law went into effect over the weekend, after being largely upheld by a federal district judge. Volunteers on an immigrant-rights group’s hot line said that since then they have received more than 1,000 calls from pregnant women afraid to go to the hospital, crime victims afraid to go the police, parents afraid to send their children to school.

School superintendents and principals across the state confirm that attendance of Hispanic children has dropped noticeably since the word went out that school officials are now required to check the immigration status of newly enrolled students and their parents.

That rule is part of the law’s sweeping attempt to curtail the rights and complicate the lives of people without papers, making them unable to enter contracts, find jobs, rent homes or access government services. In other words, to be isolated, unemployable, poor, defenseless and uneducated. (Emphasis mine)

All of this, Beason might argue, was by design. After all, a major goal of the legislation was to make immigrants as uncomfortable as possible. House Majority Leader Mickey Hammon of Decatur, who touted false information provided by a hate group during the debate over the bill, said he wanted to "attack every aspect of an illegal alien's life" with a law "designed to make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves."

In that sense, Beason and Hammon have won: the ethnic cleansing of Alabama is happening as people vote with their feet in our largest forced migration since the Trail of Tears. But none of the other promises made in support of the bill have proven true. Rather than aid Alabama's underfunded schools, thousands of withdrawals threaten to reduce school funding. Rather than reserve jobs for Alabamians, the law is putting businesses out of business and holding back tornado recovery. Churches, the traditional backbone of conservative politics here, are seeing a drop in parishioners. Senator Beason was reportedly confronted at his church by protesters this weekend. The state GOP is standing on the wrong side of its own base.

Desperate for a positive outcome, Republican state senators were all too quick to jump on last Friday's arrest of a Yemeni man who couldn't immediately produce his documents when arrested:

A group of Alabama state senators, after learning of the arrest, dispatched a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder demanding an investigation as to why someone from an area of the world known for its hotbed of terrorism could be living in Alabama without documentation.

The letter also demanded Holder and the Justice Department cease the suit filed to challenge the state’s new immigration law. A news meeting that was set for Tuesday morning to release the letter to the media was subsequently scuttled.

Republicans deliberately confused immigration with Islamophobia while pushing HB 56. Indeed, I caught Beason compounding the two issues during Senate debate on an amendment to exempt churches from criminal sanction for transporting undocumented immigrants to and from "bona fide" religious functions. He didn't object to saving souls as much as the definition of "bona fide:" a mosque apparently does not enjoy the protection of the First Amendment.

That kind of pandering worked in the 2010 legislative elections. But unintended consequences have engendered a negative reaction here, and not just from outraged sweet potato farmers. Huntsville and Birmingham are both seeing grassroots organizing efforts modeled on the Occupation of Wall Street. Your correspondent is organizing Florence. Local press is surprisingly sympathetic. Democrats, driven to the margins last November, took a principled stand against HB 56 in the legislative session and continue to organize in opposition.

We are following the advice of Booker T. Washington to cast down our buckets where we are, and that is exactly how things should be.

Alabama's immigration law is the most restrictive and awful in the nation, so it has become a model for similar efforts in other states. It has also helped feed the perception of our state as a hopeless backwater that should be abandoned. But we will instead provide the object lesson that stops such legislation dead in its tracks, and given our history there is no better place in America to stand on the side of justice.

Adding: tag deadlines are being extended. I'm sure somehow this will all be the fault of Alabama's size-small government workforce.

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