Copyright © by Len Holman, 6/24/11
Arizona’s immigration bill, 1070, started the toilet flushing, then Georgia was in the news and now Alabama has gone them all one better, with an immigration law that is stunning in its harshness, shattering in its ignorance, and another example of the inherent tension in our political system between the federal government and the states. The new Alabama immigration law requires police to check the immigration status of those they stop (what happened to “probable cause?”), bars undocumented immigrants from receiving public benefits or enrolling in state colleges, and makes it a crime to give a ride to an illegal immigrant, which in practice, makes the driver of a vehicle a cop who must check the legal status of his or her would-be passenger before providing a lift out of the rain. It also requires public schools to determine the immigration status of their students and report the number of those who are here illegally to state officials.
It’s quite an agenda. It’s illegal (since Plyler v. Doe, 1982) for states to deny a public education to any child regardless of his or her immigration status. In light of current immigration angst (real or manufactured), this decision will clearly have to be revisited. It’s hard to see how making a kid tell a school official that she or her parents are illegal is not in potential violation of Plyler, since what kid is going to rat out the parents? Instead, the child will bail or be pulled out, and there goes the public education the kid is entitled to. So, in effect, the law would have the result of violating a Supreme Court decision. This will be interesting. And it’s not like Alabama is being swamped with illegal immigrants. The estimate is 2%. Two percent of the Alabama population is driving the other 98% crazy. Or is scaring them to death. Or both.
Before we call Alabamians bigoted or stupid or ignorant, let’s remember that the U.S. is going through a very rough economic patch, and when that happens, all the old myths come to life, the old prejudices, the old untruths and evil intentions. The old fears surface, and not until there are again two chickens in every pot, will this monster settle under the waves and go back to its slumber. It’s not that there is a line out the door of the employment office for Alabamian toilet scrubbers, fruit pickers, nannies, or trash collectors (unless they’re union jobs). Aside from the impact on the local economy, the main focus is on the lack of federal muscle in “fixing” the immigration problem. The sentiment of this tension might be put onto a plaque which more and more states are hanging over their front doors: “If the Feds won’t do something about illegal immigrants, we will!”
The problem is, of course, the same one that’s been around for a very long time: How to “fix” immigration? The Feds have been incompetent, lazy, and intellectually bankrupt when it comes to this issue and the states affected most by immigration want something done NOW! States have had decades of “guest workers” which pick our fruit and veggies, allowing a shopper in Wyoming to slog through two feet of snow to get to a mountain of fresh oranges in the produce section of the grocery story, with no thought of how that shiny orange pyramid of fruit got there in the dead of winter. The argument over whether illegal immigrants are a burden or a boon to America is beside this particular point made by several states, with several more states sure to make this same point soon. The immigration anxiety is a symptom of the confusion, dread, loss of cultural landmarks, and terror associated with the dawning realization that America is not that Shining City on a Hill anymore. If America is God’s land, destined for greatness, guided by divine will, then what does America’s perceived decline say about the Supreme Deity’s power and glory? Has He moved on to China? To India? Is He fed up with the smell of tacos and refried beans, and therefore will return us to power once the offending cooks of this execrable food are gone? Or is He more concerned with some other part of the universe and will get back to us some day?
Alabama and Arizona and Georgia can whine all they want about illegal immigrants bleeding us dry, anchor babies and—as John McCain pronounced the other day—being responsible for some of the massive wildfires in his state, but they are here and there is nothing to do but sit down and work out what to do about it all. So here are some suggestions:
a) We have become quite expert using Predator drones to bomb things, so we divert a few to the border and patrol the skies, picking off those who would defile our shores. We just need to make sure we patrol our southern border, not the northern one. Of course, this only takes care of the ones coming in. We also need some plan to get the ones already here OUT.
b) We have our most beloved celebrities (Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga, Snooky, various sports stars—including soccer players—and whoever else can be found) to offer anyone coming to the ICE offices (“100 convenient locations to serve you”) total and complete amnesty and no one will ever bother them again. This will be a total lie (hey, the government never lies??). They will be transported to the nearest airlock and thrown out.
c) For those who don’t fall for that sting, there will be a Seal Team Six equivalent in every neighborhood to root out the miscreants and cleanse our nation of this insidious stain.
All of this is ridiculous and unattainable, but more and more states will want, not only authority to set immigration policy, but more and more power over who will go to what schools and be taught what subject, under whatever authority a state might see fit to establish, including a religious one, and the next thing you know, they’ll be printing their own money. Imagine a car trip from California to Florida, and at each border crossing (there WILL be border crossings), a traveler would have to check the conversion rate of, say, Texas money to Louisiana money. There goes cross-country travel and that would be the least of it. I have three words for what might occur if this trend is left unsupervised and unrepaired: Articles of Confederation. There is no aspect of public policy which a state cannot change from what are now federal standards: food inspection, science education, marriage requirements—the list would be a long one. When politicians at the national level talk and act as if this was a divided, everyone-for-him or herself, my-way-or-the-highway sort of place, then why shouldn’t the states take the hint and get busy being on their own? The question will then be, which state do YOU want to live in, and how will you get a passport to go there?
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