Conflicted Over Immigration in Alabama

Dare we even mention this subject? What a hot mess!

I suppose most of us are frustrated that federal laws regarding immigration are in some cases impractical and, in most cases, unenforced, leaving the states to cope the best they can. I’m especially put out by our state lawmakers who didn’t think through the full impact of HB-56 before passing it. Have these folks never packed a diaper bag? You anticipate possibilities; that’s the whole point.

But I am conflicted about Alabama’s efforts to manage immigrants. I notice that the law itself seems to have joined the category of Impolite Conversation along with politics and religion. Is the immigration issue so thorny now that it’s insoluble?

The whole issue is more complicated for me than simply legal/illegal. I can’t really condemn someone for fleeing a country with dismal prospects and even mortal danger. If I were a mom in Mexico, would I take a risk for even a small chance at a better life for my family, even if it meant breaking that country’s immigration protocol? Haven’t people finagled utility bills for less (better school district)?

No doubt we need secure borders and controlled immigration. I get the principle that only those who have followed the rules should get to participate, whether it’s being part of society or playing in the neighborhood bunko game. But I also recognize our complicity all these years in depending upon immigrant labor to pick our tomatoes and process our chicken in one of our state’s largest industries.

I’m concerned for immigrant children who are treated with hostility by other kids at school. And I’m equally concerned for the child who is not receiving the instruction he needs because his teacher can’t attend to him while bringing along the students who have no reinforcement in English at home.

It’s ironic that Birmingham’s largest employer and crown jewel, UAB, is home to many highly skilled, tops-in-their-field immigrants who have followed every rule and are bringing renown to the state at the same time we have unskilled, undocumented immigrants cleaning houses and installing roofs. But don’t both these extremes have clear value in our economy? Isn’t there some way to fix this besides a law that results in demonizing families? Or port-a-potties lining the courthouse lawn to accommodate long lines?

I have to admire anybody who works at mundane, thankless tasks, perhaps because it’s what we moms often do. I reserve my outrage for the able-bodied person who chooses not to work despite the opportunity, or the employer who exploits the laborer who has no choice.

Alabama is still known for “Bombingham” and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, so we can’t be surprised if our laws are viewed with suspicion. It seems that, just when we were secure enough to boast about our vigorously recruited international employers – Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai, Thyssenkrupp,  – we’re back in the spotlight for refusing water service to immigrants in mobile homes. Surely this is not who we are.

Legislators, you don’t just pack one extra diaper and run out the door. You prepare for a blowout.