Sadly, Alabama’s public relations nightmare is self-inflected. The anti-immigrant bill passed with big majorities in both houses of the state Legislature. Gov. Robert Bentley did not hesitate to sign HB56 into law. Why, it was the nation’s toughest anti-immigrant law, supporters crowed.
In the aftermath, decades of hard work to erase Alabama’s reputation for intolerance were seriously injured. As portions of the law are nibbled at by federal courts, the PR disaster for the state continues to unfold.
Inside the state, farmers complained of crops spoiled in their fields for lack of pickers. Some school administrators balked at turning from educator to immigration-status minder. Major religious denominations took the state to court, claiming some provisions against assisting illegal immigrants violated biblical tenets of care for all. Local law enforcers expressed confusion at their precise role.
Outside the state, Alabama’s competitors for economic development pile on. The not-so-subtle message is that manufacturers and their jobs should stay clear of the state lest they be tainted by association.
Hence, the Post-Dispatch noted the recent arrest in Tuscaloosa of a Mercedes executive from Germany who wasn’t carrying the documents noting he was in the country legally. “Our state has many advantages over Alabama. We are the Show-Me State, not the ‘Show me your papers’ state,” the newspaper editorialized. “Our Legislature is hostile on the immigration issue, but not as hostile as Alabama’s or Arizona’s.”
A small-town mayor in south Alabama says the law has already wounded his efforts to recruit industry. Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day said the law “hurt us,” making “a hard job just a little bit harder.”
“It’s a huge problem, because people don’t understand how much we rely upon different cultures of the world to maintain our growth here in Alabama,” David Bronner, chairman and CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, recently told The Birmingham News.
Each incident, each court battle, each documented instance of harassment puts Alabama under the glare of an uncomfortable spotlight. The people of Alabama deserve better.
The pain is apparently being felt in the state’s political circles. Several Montgomery Republicans, including Bentley, have suggested the law needs some tweaking. That would be a start.
Bentley recently took to his Twitter account to note “this law is NOT racist/racially motivated, we’re asking that the Federal Gov’t enforce the law that is already in place.”
For starters, it’s never a winning argument to begin with the stipulation that a law is not racist. However, the governor is correct on the point that the federal government has made a mess of dealing with illegal immigration. President George W. Bush offered a reasonable solution during his second term, only to have his fellow Republicans in Congress blast it out of the water.
The governor misses the mark in claiming HB56 merely asks the feds to enforce immigration law. The law Bentley signed is an ill-considered and tangled mess that harasses folks at the bottom of the economic ladder while turning every state employee into a border-patrol officer.
Here’s a suggestion for the governor. When the Legislature meets in 2012, he has the opportunity to push for (a.) a repeal of HB56 and (b.) a resolution asking Washington to fix a problem of its own making.