At least, in terms of our policies concerning illegal immigration they are.
It seems a bill advancing in the Legislature has a strong resemblance to the immigration law in Arizona that has garnered so much media attention in the last few months.
That attention, it should be added, hasn’t been all that positive. Alabama knows about that kind of coverage. We’ve experienced quite a bit of it in the last few decades. Think fire hoses and attack dogs.
So if you want to talk about the sort of effect this kind of legislation can have on the state’s image, it’s pretty clear it won’t be sunshine and roses. Just check in with the folks in the convention-planning business if you doubt that.
What’s a little more hazy is what kind of effect illegal immigration has on the overall economy. State Rep. Micky Hammon of Decatur, the sponsor, has written into the bill that it would be a felony for an illegal immigrant to register to vote, but he’s also made sure the bill would prohibit employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
Now this, for a lot of people, is where the rubber hits the road.
Believe it or not, many employers have long depended on immigrants (some of them illegal) to carry out work. That might not be the case at a defense contractor in Anniston, but it sure as heck can be true for a tomato farmer in Slocomb.
Ever wonder why President George W. Bush walked such a careful line on the immigration debate? He was not only advocating a more humanitarian approach to the issue (certainly something way short of “deport them all”), he was also looking out for certain business interests, including the ones he was intimately familiar with in south Texas.
Of course, Rep. Hammon and his colleagues have been pushing this idea for awhile now. But they got traction this time around because the Republicans finally got control of the state Legislature.
Politics is another question, of course. But it is worth remembering that it might not be the smartest long-term strategy to alienate (no pun intended) the fastest-growing minority in the nation. The political language around immigration that works in northeast Alabama is a non-starter in southern California, south Texas or any other place where large numbers of Hispanics — who make up nearly 50 percent of the nation’s immigrants — live.
And get this, new census figures show that Hispanics now make up the majority of people under the age of 18 in California.
Who cares? The national Democratic and Republican parties do. Or they should.
So it’s a complicated, complex problem politically, but it also has some big implications for the economy. It probably isn’t wise to rush into this Arizona canyon without a full understanding of what the implications could be.
One side of this issue will tell you that illegal immigrants are bankrupting the nation, because of all the social services they are taking advantage of. The other extreme will tell you the nation will go bankrupt if we clamp down on illegal immigrants, strangling the agricultural industry and many others.
The more knowledgeable tend to be more in the middle.
Middle-of-the-road opinions abound, but in this case, some thoughts from Knowledge, the journal of the Wharton Business School, seem helpful.
The good professors point out that most Americans have sympathy for immigrants since all of us, except Native Americans, have that in common.
They also point to lost business as a result of the legislation in Arizona and the fact that 30 percent of that state’s population is Hispanic, with a third of those 2 million people being born outside the United States, most of them in Mexico.
They also quote from a group called Americans for Immigration Reform. This is a voice represented by part, but not all, of the business community. So take it with a grain of salt. But the organization found that “if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Arizona, the state would lose $26.4 billion in economic activity and approximately 140,324 jobs.”
Of course, illegal immigrants who are here do use social services that put strain on local, state and federal agencies. But as many as 75 percent also pay taxes, says the Congressional Budget Office. Also, The New York Times has reported that illegal immigrants pay as much as $7 billion into the Social Security fund, extending its solvency, no doubt, since they can’t draw on it.
North of the desert, Utah lawmakers recently passed a bill similar to Arizona’s. It gives law enforcement wide authority in questioning and detaining illegal immigrants. But the measure also allows for a guest worker program.
In other words, it was more measured and balanced and humane. Something that did not stir up an Arizona-like dust storm.
Anniston Star Editor at large John Fleming explores issues related to the area’s economy and businesses in this weekly news column. Send topic suggestions to email@example.com