Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Our Immigration Dilemma

Alabama State Capitol
I just returned from a run to the post office. While I was there, I saw a young Hispanic woman at the customer island counter in the process of packing eight separate boxes. Each box was identical in size, and from what I could see as I walked past she was packing each box with jeans, shirts, and sneakers.  I did not want to intrude with questions about what she was doing, but I assumed that she was in the process of mailing things back home to family members. There are so many stories of immigrants who come to the U.S. in order to send money and needed items back home to support their families. I imagined what this young woman must be feeling, her sense of industry and her ability to make life a little better for her people back home. This has been happening in so many towns in the U.S. for years.

The scene I witnessed also reminded me of the fiasco of an immigration law passed in my home state of Alabama. The State legislature passed the harshest immigration law in the country, which many citizens oppose and are asking for the law to be repealed. Instead, the State House is about it try to pass some amendments to strengthen the law and make it more palatable to the business community. The law has already been seen to be unjust and has been harmful to the state’s economy. It should be abolished rather than amended.

Here are my other thoughts about the young lady I saw at the post office. Assuming she is an immigrant, she works very hard and has contributed much that our community needs (we gladly accept immigrant labor to pick our crops, roof our houses, tend our lawns and clean our buildings). I also know that she does indeed pay taxes – with every items purchases and with every paycheck receives she is paying taxes ( last year in Alabama, immigrants paid $132 million in taxes).  She is also loving under much more stress and fear since the passing of our state’s immigration law. I recall my conversation with an Hispanic pastor named Antonio who compared life under the new law with life under the Samosa regime in Nicaragua. I also recall the article in U.S.  Catholic about the difficulties of the Hispanic community in Opelika, Alabama due to our new law (“Alabama to Latino immigrants: No room at the inn”).

There is no question that the immigration laws need to be changed. Since we are so dependent upon immigrant labor, we need new laws that will make it easier for Latino immigrants to work in the U.S.  That legal reform however, must take place at the federal level. Immigration policy is under federal jurisdiction. The problem is that today so many are reacting out of fear.  The U.S. Congress is afraid to do anything of any consequence for fear of the ballot box and congressmen’s fear of not being able to stay in power. State governments are operating out of fear of losing control and seeing too many brown-skinned people around. There has to be a better way to reform our immigration policies. There has to be a way in which all parties can operate with purpose and industry rather than with fear and prejudice.

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UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Alabama State Senate has voted not to repeal HB56, but instead has voted to change the law without repealing it. Read the press report in The Montgomery Advertiser here. An earlier article has a little more detail here. As the song says, "Not dark yet, but it's gettin' there"

FURTHER UPDATE - May 17, 2012: Here are just a few recent statements about the harmful effects of Alabama’s Immigration law. (For the record, I have found no one crediting this legislation as good or helpful, even when I Google "the good thing about Alabama's immigration law.")

From Jeb Bush:

From the New York Times:

From Fox News Latino:

ONE MORE UPDATE - June 26, 2012: When my state refused to repeal or even budge on its Immigration law, it became all to clear to me that Alabama will not do what is just and right in this situation unless and until the Federal government intervenes. I should have known this. The same was true with it's Jim Crow laws, civil rights and integration (but one can always hope that his state will do better).

Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on the Arizona Immigration law it a sure step toward correcting Alabama's law. As reported in The New York Times, immigration is a matter of federal jurisdiction , not individual states:

The justices make it clear that this case is about the power of the federal government to set immigration policy and to pre-empt, to a large degree, state policies that can infringe on that federal power. An expert on immigration law, Micahel A. Olivas, explained: "We can't have 50 different immigration policies, 50 different foreign policies."

The only part of the Arizona Law that the court tentatively upheld was the  allow law enforcement to determine immigration status  of someone detained for other reasons if there is legitimate suspicion. When this part of the law is enacted, it will likely lead to racial profiling which may then be struck down by the court.

So in short, there is some hope yet for justice. Will congress now embark on serious immigration reform?

Previous posts on Immigration:

Alabama's New Immigration Bill

Alabama's Anti-Immigration Law: The Faithful Take Action


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