In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina members of the media noticed there was widespread devastation in the South. Watching it on television, as a person of Southern heritage, to me it was clear: “Some of that was like that before the storm.” And it was. And it still is years later. Now since the Southern states have primaries for the next few weeks – combined with Mitt Romney doing his best Rand McNally material at campaign stops – the South is in the spotlight once again.
However, in this election cycle there are no real Southern candidates. Newt Gingrich represented Georgia but was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (and retains that accent). To contrast that, both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention events are being held in southern states (North Carolina and Florida).
Here’s what the nation ignores unless there’s a disaster (or an election which could also qualify as a disaster): Of the bottom 10 poorest states in the union – nine of them are Southern states east of Texas. Mississippi is the poorest state of all. Child poverty. Unemployment. Under-employment. Lack of education. Lack of resources. The nation’s highest obesity rates are found south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Despite the conservative bona fides, the South isn’t pulling herself up by her bootstraps … mainly because she can’t see her toes she’s about to lose to diabetes. These are deeply and consistently Republican voters – but being poor and Republican is like being a cow and pro-leather. The South is a parable as to why that is: Their prejudices are being exploited to prod them into being against their own best interests.
In the South there’s been a long (and storied) resentment of outsiders coming in and telling them how to run their lives. But without fail, when the economy is bad anywhere – historically the first group to be blamed are the noobs. Hence why a new wave of anti-immigrant legislation has been pouring out of the southern region of the U.S.
Last year, Alabama passed HB 56 or Hammon-Beason Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act which led to a mass exodus of labor in the state. There were reports of crops rotting in the fields and an estimated cost to the state in the billions. Now the governor of Mississippi has endorsed a similar plan. Capitalizing politicians will say these heavy-handed laws are to keep out illegal immigrants but in practice it’s anyone who looks vaguely foreign being forced to show their paperwork.
Not exactly the land of the free. And sure not Southern hospitality.
Are immigrants, as these laws imply, parasites on the system? It’s actually the poorest (and yes, Southern) states that are the ones not carrying their own weight. For every dollar Alabamans pay in federal taxes, they receive $1.66 in federal money. In Louisiana it’s $1.78 per dollar. Mississippi gets $2.02 per dollar they give the dreaded federal gubmint.
There’s a way to help this region get off the federal dole: Welcome immigrants.
California has a huge immigrant population (both legal and illegal) and while certainly not void of any problems, the state still boasts of having the 8th largest economy in the world. And grumble as you will about Californians, for every dollar they pay in federal taxes – the rest of the country receives nearly a quarter of it.
Southern conservatives can bemoan “paying for someone else’s birth control” but in this way the New England states are paying for “someone else’s” (namely the South’s) Lipitor.
Welcome immigrants. When you welcome immigrants - you welcome tourists, you welcome tax revenue and then, counter-intuitively, the South can be more self-reliant. That’s a conservative principle in a “severely” right-leaning culture.
The best thing the South can do to save herself is welcome the world. Be a place immigrants move to. Let smart people from other countries call themselves Alabamians. Let hard working people everywhere call Mississippi home. Welcome the world to the South.
Basically enact the opposite of HB 56.