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.