Friday, October 28, 2011

Alabama's Anti-Immigrant Law: When "Pro-Life" States Make Life Unlivable for Unwanted Minorities

More commentary about the theme that we Americans are inching towards barbarism, and those leading the pack are the loudest among us to proclaim themselves "pro-life": Elise Foley reports at Huffington Post that the legislators who crafted the ugly legislation in Alabama now targeting that state's immigrants are openly admitting that the legislation is deliberately designed to drive immigrants from the state.  As she notes, Republican state legislator Micky Hammon (R) has stated, "We really want to prevent illegal immigrants from coming to Alabama and to prevent those who are here from putting down roots."

And state senator Scott Beason (R) has recently informed the media that the purpose of the bill was to "take away the attractiveness and the things that draw an illegal workforce," and he thinks that the bill is working: it's driving immigrants from the state.  Foley compares the Alabama legislation to the similar legislation Arizona has passed, where Arizona state representative John Kavanaugh (R) has declared, "Our intention is to make Arizona a very uncomfortable place for them to be so they leave or never come here in the first place."

Meanwhile, as Campbell Robertson notes in the New York Times, those most drastically and immediately affected by these overt, state-designed signals of unwelcome are the children of the state's immigrants--a point I discussed in a previous posting about the legislation.  The bill contains a provision requiring schools to record the immigration status of children and turn the data over to the state. 

As a result, immigrant children are now leaving or not attending school in many places in the state.  Robertson notes that the bill is designed to test the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Pyler v. Doe, which found that the children of immigrants should not be targeted as a discrete class of citizens to be denied rights such as the right to an education, due to the immigration status of their parents.  As Robertson states,

The court ruled that this violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause, saying that the statute "imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable" for their immigration status. In the decision, the court also said that the state had not presented evidence showing it was substantially harmed by giving these children — as distinct from any other children — a free public education.

Once again, as I read these news accounts, the word "barbaric" is the first word that leaps to my mind.  It is barbaric for communities to single out minority groups that are already disadvantaged, and which often stand out due to skin color, economic status, or customs, and then to seek to drive that group from the midst of the community.  It is barbaric to design legislation with the sole purpose of making people unwelcome, unwanted, frightened.

It is barbaric to target the children of these stigmatized minority groups, and to seek to deny them fundamental human rights (and necessities) such as education--with the sole purpose of making them and their parents so afraid of what the community may do to them next, that they uproot themselves and go elsewhere to find a more humane place to live.  It is barbaric for a political party, particularly one vaunting itself on its "pro-life" values, to use legislation such as this--and that is to say, to use vulnerable human lives of a marginalized minority group--for political gain, to assure heavy turnout of "right-thinking" voters at the polls in upcoming elections.

Alabama's anti-immigrant legislation is designed to create among citizens the impression that their state is being overrun by illegal immigrants who are taking jobs from hard-working citizens, and who are sponging off the state by receiving "free" services such as medical care, education, and so forth.  But as Robertson notes, according to estimates of the American Community Survey group, less than half of one-percent of children in Alabama's schools are in the country illegally.  And as my previous posting about the Alabama legislation (to which a link is provided above) notes, many workplaces--in particular, farms--in Alabama that have long relied on the labor of immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are already complaining that they are suffering economically from the loss of workers, who were doing jobs that no one else in their communities intends to do.

Perhaps because I have just read Irmgard Hunt's book Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood, which details how the Nazis rose to power in Germany from the perspective of a young girl who came of age under the Nazi system, I cannot avoid thinking about the legislation now in place in Alabama in terms of what happened in Germany in the 1930s.  There, too, the state began to require schools to take note of and record the status of children whose families Germany was intent to drive out of the country--Jewish children. 

Humane societies do not treat minority communities this way.  Political groups that declare themselves "faith-based" and "Christian" and "pro-life" do not behave this way.  Initiatives like the draconian anti-immigrant legislation of the state of Alabama in no way honor the teaching of a Christ who informed his followers that they will be judged on the basis of whether they have made the strangers in their midst welcome--though the state of Alabama ranks second among all U.S. states in the percentage of its citizens reporting that everything they do in their lives is based on their religious conviction.

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