Sunday, December 18, 2011

Times Excoriates Alabama for Immigration Law: Foolish Gesture of Defiance

The New York Times today rightly takes Alabama to task for its sordid immigration law.  The law is proving, to say the least, an embarrassment to the state.  What some groups within the state of Alabama imagine they've gained by way of ginning up social animosity towards immigrants is clearly offset by the damage the state is doing to itself with the new law in terms of its image, economy, and, as becomes increasingly apparent, its legal system.  

The opening sentence of the Times editorial will inevitably evoke, for many Southerners and others who remember the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, memories of the self-defeating, history-defying stance the Southern states persistently tried to take as they sought to block forward movement for civil rights for citizens of color.  The editorial observes, 

Alabama’s stance on its extremist immigration law is shifting from defiance to damage control.

I remember that word "defiance" looming very large in the vocabulary of white Southerners of my generation in the Civil Rights period.  We were defiantly proud that we were obstructing justice.  That people like George Wallace were standing in the doorway and on the steps of schools (and churches) to keep "them" out and to keep "them" in their places.

We were refighting the battles of the War, and were determined to win the War this go-round.  Forget, hell!

And we were just as deliriously, as stupidly wrong then as Alabama is stupidly wrong now as it seeks to defy various federal laws and the dictates of plain human decency by targeting immigrants and seeking to drive immigrants from the state through legislative enactments that place an undue and unnecessary burden on all citizens of the state.  Our defiance back then inevitably ended up turning into damage control--just as the defiance of Alabamans vis-a-vis the immigrant population of the state will inevitably turn into damage control, as the real cost of this ugly, unnecessary anti-immigrant law begins to be apparent.

As the editorial points out, in targeting some citizens of Alabama, the law inevitably ends up targeting all citizens and undermining the civil rights of all citizens.  It casts a pall over the business climate of the whole state, and not just over the lives of the immigrant workers it hoped to make miserable--something that became apparent recently when, under the new law, a visiting Mercedes-Benz manager was jailed because he was driving without a license.

At which point, Alabama had to inform him and the other foreign investors who have jump-started the economy of the booming business corridor of north Alabama around Huntsville that it didn't intend to make them unwelcome.  Only "them," those other kinds of foreign workers.

The bottom line re: the new law is that it is never good sense to make laws that are unenforceable, or whose administration is cumbersome to the point that the effects of the law outweigh any expected advantages of controlling the behavior of a group of citizens against whom a law is specifically directed.  It's never wise to make laws whose sole reason for existence is to target a particular minority, when the fundamental tenets of a democratic society require you to apply a law equally to everyone in a democratic society.

It's never wise to make showy gestures of defiance just because.  Just because you enjoy making a spectacle of yourself, when said spectacle is bound to end up on the dust heap of history every bit as much as the notion of slavery did.  Or the practice of segregation.

Or any of the other indefensible violations of human rights to which we white Southerners seem curiously attracted, as our particular contribution to American history--as we proudly, defiantly, and stupidly defend first slavery, then segregation, then the subordination of women to men, then the oppression of gay and lesbian people by heterosexual ones, and now the targeting of minority groups including Islamic folks and immigrants.

Some people's defiance is, to other people who use their heads and follow instincts of basic human decency, folly.  That's a lesson my people seem not inclined to learn anytime soon, to our discredit and our shame.

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