Who Would Want to Live in Alabama Anyway?

I am stunned by the new Alabama law that requires local police to check the immigration status of people who they believe may be in the country illegally, schools to check the immigration status of students and landlords to validate the legality of potential tenants.

Salon writer Justin Elliott describes the new law this way:

It is everything that was included in Arizona’s SB 1070 – including everything that was enjoined by the courts when they evaluated that bill. The twist is a provision in the Alabama law that requires schools to determine and verify immigration status of any student who is enrolling and any parent of students who are enrolling.

My horrified reaction is prompted not only by the obvious racism behind the legislation – it’s what I expect from places like Alabama – but also by the implied assumption that a flood of  immigrants, illegal or otherwise, would choose Alabama as their new home.

It has to be one of the last places in North America that anyone would voluntarily move to.

One of the poorest states in the nation (with poverty levels hovering above 15 percent), Alabama offers lousy education, a crotchety climate, and high unemployment.

It is also ironic that Alabama would seek to shut out Hispanics when it was a Hispanic, Hernando de Soto, who put the place on the map in 1540. And it was “foreigners” who settled there first – French colonists founded a settlement at Fort Louis de la Mobile in 1702. The British gained control of the area in 1763 (as spoils of war with the French) and lost it in the U.S. War of Independence.

So people like Governor Robert Bentley are descended from interlopers who were probably just as unwelcome in old Alabama as any modern-day immigrant.

Oh, and by the way, the biggest early boosts to the state’s economy came from “colored people.” Not just because it was their (free) labor that planted and harvested the cotton, but also because of Dr. George Washington Carver’s agricultural research at Tuskegee Institute – founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington. As all the world must know, both were black. And Carver was once a slave.

Obviously ignorant of the debt that Alabama owes to Hispanics and blacks, present-day politicians preen themselves over the state’s more recent industrialization, which was achieved by shutting out labor unions.

And they harbor the delusion that America belongs only to those immigrants – many of whom were entirely undocumented – who came from the British Isles or Europe.

It’s no wonder that oppressed black people boycotted the buses in Montgomery and marched from Selma to Montgomery (despite the brutal opposition they encountered along the way) back in the late Fifties.

Today, in states like Alabama, the embers of the Confederacy smolder yet; latter-day Johnny Rebs still fly the flag of secession and nostalgically keep Confederate memories alive (see photo above).

Any immigrant would have to be desperate indeed to choose such a place – even without the new law.