In the popular imagination, day laborers congregating in front of big-box retailers were the target of the anti-immigrant law, commonly known as HB56. These folks, many of them Latino, were suspected to have illegally crossed the U.S. border. They were believed to be taking American jobs. They were a nifty target for the ire of Alabama residents squeezed by the weak economy. They were an “other” that in the imagination of Alabama Republicans were keeping the state down.
The reality was far different.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 3 percent of the state’s population is undocumented. Said differently, Alabama has twice the prison population than it has space for. Fifteen percent of residents lack health insurance. Twenty-five percent of its population is functionally illiterate. Yet, Gov. Robert Bentley and the majority in the state Legislature ignored tackling those problems and instead went after a tiny fraction of residents believed to be in the country illegally.
Two years after HB56 became law, it’s clear such legalized bigotry was a public relations disaster for a state already saddled with negative perceptions in its all-too-recent past.
A fresh round of embarrassment for the state is in the wings. The 16,000 doctors practicing medicine in Alabama have until today to prove they are in the country legally. There are no reliable indicators for how many doctors in Alabama are undocumented, but it’s safe to assume this is not much of a problem.
We’re are once again back in the arena of scale. Montgomery strains at the minutia and misses — by either blindness or willful ignorance — the big picture.
One-third of Alabamians are overweight. About 1-in-7 suffer with diabetes. Among adults, 37 percent have been diagnosed with high blood-pressure. Even more — 40 percent — have high cholesterol. Very few residents bother getting regular exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These and other statistics keep Alabama doctors very busy treating the ill effects of unhealthy lifestyles.
Yet, the Legislature has decided to focus on the legal status of physicians, something that has zero impact on the health of Alabamians.