I read the new Alabama anti-immigrant law today. The law requires school children to report on the immigration status of their parents (sounds a little like Big brother and Nazi Germany). The law prevents refugees who have been granted asylum in the US from going to a state university. The law also makes it a crime to drive someone who is undocumented to church or a hospital. This anti-immigrant law is the most extreme in the entire United States and should make all Americans take pause and ponder on the direction of the United States.
Of course, Alabama is not the most progressive state and consistently falls at the bottom of education, economics, and wealth in the nation. It is a state that never left Dixie and still seeks to control those folks who are not white. Alabama was a state targeted by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement and it seems that it still needs to be targeted by civil rights and liberties groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), based in Montgomery, Alabama, is filing a lawsuit against the new law. Morris Dees, Founder of the SPLC, calls the new law draconian and reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.
This law, like the others enacted by mostly southern and western states, violates the constitutional concept of equal protection under the law. It will allow the police to continue to use racial profiling to stop persons for reasons that not many whites would face. Legal immigrants will again be forced to produce documentation of citizenship; unlike white citizens. The law is another “Law and Order” technique developed to harass, identify and abuse persons of color (typically Latino/a’s) who are legal citizens. Certainly the law will also entrap illegal’s but at what expense to regular law abiding persons of color?
These “new” immigrant laws are not recent inventions; rather, America has a long history of passing laws to inhibit migration by specific groups. Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Latino/a’s, and other populations from Asia and the Southern hemisphere have all been subject to American racism and being used as a labor force for jobs whites did not and do not want to perform. These populations were all given stereotypic code words and phrases that conferred all types of fears, resentments and anger on the part of white America. These established implicit and covert biases still exist today and drive the new immigration laws.
I am concerned that the new laws are being developed to fuel an already flammable mixture of us versus them. Us being white Americans and them being persons of color whether they are citizens or illegal immigrants. The rhetoric that I have heard and read surrounding the passing of each of these state laws are one of us versus them. Each has the impact of expanded racial profiling and gives more power to police departments to enforce “law and order”.
I am also concerned that these “new” laws will only entrench the implicit racial bias of white America and perhaps even increase the overt racism of whites towards persons of color and Lationo/a’s in particular. Certainly the language used by proponents of the laws portrays the illegal immigrants as poor, more prone to violence, uncivilized, and even stronger language meant to stroke the biased psyche of white voters against those who are perceived to be different from them and therefore something to fear.
These immigration laws have in common the belief that states have a right to protect their borders and citizens. This is the old “States Rights” argument used to maintain segregation and Jim Crow. Coupling the “States Rights” belief with the “Law and Order” belief creates a system that seeks to contain persons of color and strip them of rights that whites enjoy on a universal basis. Add the “Intent Doctrine” (from the 1976 Supreme Court decision in Washington v. Davis) to the above beliefs then it becomes more clear that persons of color apprehended by immigration laws will have little or no protection or recourse under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This is to say that persons of color will be profiled and discriminated against by these “new” laws and will have very little recourse for vindication or protection in American courts.
I believe that we are beginning to see another reversal of civil rights by the enactment of these immigration laws.
Timothy A. Bess
July 11, 2011