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Michael Wildes

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Alabama's History With Jim Crow Revisited

Posted: 10/07/2011 10:25 am

The recent immigration law enacted in the state of Alabama is a cause for much concern. Under the decision of Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, sections of the law are already being enforced, including a provision that requires state and local enforcement officials to verify a person's immigration status during routine traffic stops and one that requires elementary and secondary schools to determine and record the immigration status of incoming students and their parents. Alabama now has the strictest anti-immigration legislation in the country. Other states, such as Arizona, have attempted to pass similar legislation only to be blocked by federal judges. Judge Blackburn's failure to enter a preliminary injunction against certain provisions of Alabama's new anti-immigrant legislation, H.B. 56, is already causing major disturbances.

In particular, Section 28 of the new law requires school districts to determine and report the immigration status of all newly enrolling students to the State Department of Education, which has resulted in a record number of absences and withdrawals from school for Hispanic children. Parents, in grave fear of repercussions from immigration authorities, are keeping their children out of school. Some families are even fleeing the state despite school officials' efforts to ensure families that there is no cause for alarm. Parents are doing what they feel is necessary to protect themselves and their children and to stay in the country. It is tragic to see young children suffering at the hands of this disturbing attempt at immigration reform.

The heinous consequences of this legislation will ultimately affect the entire public school system in Alabama-therefore resulting in losses for all students, including U.S. citizen and legal immigrant children. The system depends on its enrollment numbers for funding. As the illegal Hispanic immigrant population continues to vanish from schools seeking to avoid discrimination and fear of deportation, so too will the funding for the education of all Alabama students.

Because of the deafening silence from Washington on comprehensive federal immigration reform, states such as Alabama, are taking action and enacting unconstitutional laws. While law-backers claim that the new immigration provisions are intended to deliver jobs to citizens and protect taxpayers, they appear to be having the opposite effect. One cannot ignore the impending economic disaster and relentless discrimination that will ensue.

The section of the Alabama law that will now allow local law enforcement officials to take federal matters into their own hands in conducting "routine stops" of individuals "suspected" to be undocumented is reminiscent of Arizona's fatal attempt to enact similar immigration restrictions. Alabama police are uncertain about how to enforce the law and have yet to clearly define any.

The disruption to the education of children living in the U.S. is perhaps the most offensive change being authorized. This is not only an infringement upon federal law but a terrible tragedy, and a crude attempt at immigration reform. These actions go against the very foundations our country was built upon. This country can attribute much of its growth to its long history of individuals and families who immigrated here, dedicated to establishing a better life and contributing to a country they believed in.

Regardless of its purported best intentions -- to put U.S. citizens in Alabama back to work -- this law has already had the disparate impact on Hispanics, effectively segregating them from the general population like black citizens were under Jim Crow. The law is uprooting working people, home buyers and taxpayers, as Hispanics flee Alabama in uncertain anticipation of what is next. The law is splitting up families -- forcing undocumented immigrants to find legal guardians for their US citizen children -- and keeping some children out of school altogether.

Our current system of immigration is not only outdated and inadequate, it perpetuates the cycle of illegal immigration through its rigid and arbitrary rules. The system makes it impossible for hard-working, taxpaying immigrants to achieve legal status even though many have a strong desire to do so.

As a country founded by immigrants, we should be defending core American values -- education and the prevention of racial profiling and discrimination. Legislative extremism only perpetuates the notion that all undocumented immigrants pose a threat to this country. It will cause the immigrant community to panic, to pull their children from schools and vanish from work sites. This will consequently cause a drop in public school funding for all children and further economic disaster, particularly affecting the agricultural industry. Farmers have not been able to make up the lack of a workforce and crops in fields are rotting unpicked. Production has come to an abrupt halt, as workers fail to show up to work in fear of being arrested and placed into removal proceedings.

The question remains: how do we, as a nation, protect our homeland and at the same time address our economic challenges. We must devise a way to integrate the many undocumented immigrants to allow them to be productive citizens, thus benefiting the United States as a whole, instead of driving these individuals and families into hiding and causing economic breakdown in many communities.

It is my prayer that our elected officials will stand tall, act in kind, and align with the values of Lady Liberty, who stands as a beacon to those individuals around the world hoping to become an integral part of this great country.

 
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