Injustice and Discrimination in Alabama

The New York Times today published an editorial titled, “On the Rise in Alabama.” The content of the piece is focused on the new series of laws passed in Alabama, a state well known for its history of racial discrimination and injustice, that seeks to prevent basic, fundamental human rights to women, men and children who are undocumented immigrants. Additionally, the discriminatory nature of the laws actually makes being latino/a a veritable crime because of the scrutiny under which such women, men and children will be victim by virtue of the color of their skin, the language of their family and the culture of their inheritance. The Times explains: “The law was written to deny immigrants without papers the ability to work or travel, to own or rent a home, to enter contracts of any kind. Fear is causing an exodus as Latinos abandon homes and jobs and crops in the fields. Utilities are preparing to shut off water, power and heat to customers who cannot show the right papers.”

The editors quote Alabama’s first african-american judge (now retired) on this matter.

“It is a fear of folks who are not like us,” said Judge U. W. Clemon, a former state senator and Alabama’s first black federal judge, now retired. “Although the Hispanic population of the state is less than 5 percent, the leaders of the state were hell-bent on removing as much of that 4 percent as possible. And I think they’ve been fairly successful in scaring them out of the state of Alabama.”

I think it’s particularly telling that, as Judge Clemon states, the population of latino/a people in Alabama is a very small minority when compared to other states. To focus so much legislative attention on such a small number of people reveals an ugly truth about discrimination and, as Judge Clemon and others assert, betrays the hidden truth that Alabamian legislators ostensibly deny: this type of action is racially based.

The largely undiscussed details of the laws’ progeny, particularly the character vis-á-vis race of some of the legislative sponsors, is rather disturbing. The Times continues:

A sponsor of the legislation, State Senator Scott Beason, chairman of the Rules Committee, was secretly taped by the F.B.I. talking about black residents of Greene County. “They’re aborigines,” he said. He is the lawmaker who urged fellow Republicans to “empty the clip” to stop illegal immigrants.

There is some movement on the ground to oppose the injustice of these apparent racially motivated laws. Some church leaders have been proactive in seeking to civilly disobey the legislation (Read about some churches in an earlier Times piece). The Times editorial ends with acknowledgement of some grassroots efforts to combat the injustice and discrimination of the laws, while at the same time prophetically describing the situation for what it is: the latest iteration of racism in Alabama.

And, just as in the early days of the civil rights struggle, the oppressed and their advocates are scrambling to respond. Early this month, organizers from Alabama and around the country convened a training session for immigrant leaders in rural Albertville, where chicken plants rely heavily on Latino labor. They went from trailer home to trailer home, signing up volunteers to build immigrant networks that will help people protect one another while fighting for repeal of the law and integrating themselves into the life of their state.

This fledgling movement has been embraced by the N.A.A.C.P., whose leaders in Birmingham met recently with immigrant advocates to stress the need for blacks and Latinos to unite against the law. “Jim Crow is dead,” the Rev. Anthony Alann Johnson told the group, “but his cousins are still alive.”

People of good faith need to stand up for the foundational human rights of all people. God does not discriminate based on accidental characteristics of our experience — that you were born in Mexico, the United States or Canada is entirely outside of your control. That you seek to provide for you family, sacrificing greatly and risking much, is a move that should not be greeted with the sort of animosity it has engendered by those who lack the fundamental level of human empathy.

Far too often the progenitors of this sort of hate crimes, presented under the guise of “civil” or “economic protection,” justify hatred, discrimination and injustice with narratives of utter fiction. These Alabamians, many of whom are presumably “good Christians,” who support this type of hate law — and those in Arizona and elsewhere following in suit — must remember what scripture says about welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the alien, the unwanted, the guest. Nowhere will you find Christian justification for this kind (or any kind) of exclusion. The immigrant may reserve the right to “shake the dust from his or her sandals,” but no one reserves the right to do it for him or her.

Photo: AP

One Response to “Injustice and Discrimination in Alabama”

  1. William R. Snaer Says:

    There really is a problem with illegal immigration. The Church would do better to exert its effort toward finding a solution instead of quoting Matthew and resorting to charges of racism. Here is my essay on the subject from the April 26, 2010 issue of the Riverside Press Enterprise:

    AMNESTY? INSIST ON BORDER CONTROL FIRST

    Cardinal Roger Mahony attacked Arizona’s proposed anti-illegal immigration legislation as “reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation.” Instead of taking potshots at Arizonans who are desperate to control their severe illegal immigration problem, Cardinal Mahony should examine his own responsibility in obstructing immigration reform.

    Illegal immigration is even more serious than it appears. A 2005 Pew Hispanic Center Study reveals that 41% of Mexicans would like to emigrate to the United States. Even a fraction of that 41 million people would be a problem. We need reform, but how to achieve it?

    On the extremes, the Center for Immigration Studies presses for voluntary deportations, and some left-wing groups support open borders. Neither is feasible.

    The solution is a proper sequence of three steps: border control, regularization of existing illegal immigrants, and workplace enforcement.

    Sequencing is crucial. There is a lot of loose talk about workplace enforcement, but full commitment to this step without regularization would involve such hardship for both employers and illegal residents, there would never be the political will to make it happen. Regularization of legal status must happen first, but opposition to “amnesty” will only wither when Americans believe that a reasonable level of border control has been achieved.

    And that is where Cardinal Mahony becomes part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

    A June 14, 2006 report in the Los Angeles Times described a press conference by Cardinal Mahony, SanBernardino Bishop Gerald Barnes, and Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio during the time immigration reform bills were being considered in Congress. The AP article reported: “The bishops took issue with the border-strengthening provisions in both bills, saying patrols and fences were not stopping the flow and only putting people in danger.”

    Of course, the immigration reform bills fizzled, largely because people did not believe that there was a real commitment to border control. During the presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain often mentioned this factor.

    Despite the significant divide on immigration reform, McCain’s bill immigration bill made significant progress toward passage. It never came to a vote; the bill died when the vote to end debate got only 46 of the 60 votes required. Would the political balance have been different if Catholic leaders had been supporting border control as an indispensable ingredient of immigration reform instead of fighting it?

    A careful comparison of the lineup that blocked McCain-Kennedy compared to the lineup that would be needed to pass an immigration bill shows how important such support would be. There is a misconception that the political right was totally preoccupied with “shamnesty” and uniformly opposed immigration reform Not so. Prominent conservative senators worked on various reform proposals: Sens. John Kyl, Jim DeMint, John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions. Upper level conservative talk-show hosts Michael Medved and Dennis Prager supported comprehensive reform, and Hugh Hewitt supported reform but had some concerns about the details.

    The U.S. Bishops putatively represent 68 million American Catholics. Cardinal Mahony and his fellow bishops should abandon their search for a perfect immigration remedy and settle for a very good solution that includes the indispensable ingredient of strong border control. This change of posture is the largest shift of political influence available in the immigration debate.

    An effective bill that stabilizes illegal influx and legalizes the presence of existing residents would bring a huge bonus of economic progress and social harmony, and the Bishops could justifiably take credit for breaking the logjam.

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