Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Immigration and Human Rights: Alabama

This is a guest post by Anthony Garcia.

The U.S. economy has not been faring well in recent years. Politicians try to gain election momentum on issues of high rates of joblessness, and this can be used as a justification for racism and human rights violations to flourish. Many citizens from both uneducated and highly educated backgrounds blame immigration for the country’s woes, using rhetoric about job stealing and who is or is not a “real” American to explain why we as a nation are spiraling into debt and losing jobs fast. For many of us in America, especially for minority citizens and Mexican Americans, this type of anti- “alien” rhetoric can ruin lives. Not only does it dehumanize, but it disallows for any nuances in personal situation, completely compartmentalizing and “othering” immigrants of color.

Campesinos harvesting summer squash
Campesinos harvesting summer squash uploaded by Robert Dickey on Flickr

There is potential for crisis on the human rights front now occurring in the southern belt states of the U.S., with state laws seeking to close the flow of illegal immigration. The patrol for illegal immigrants in Border States has moved inward, so people of color are not just being profiled at the border anymore, but they may not be safe from harassment inland either. This has already happened in Arizona, where you can get pulled over for suspicion of being an alien. In other words, if you are a person of any shade darker than lily white, you can be pulled over for just that. The recent laws in Alabama have increased anxiety and business loss for those employers that depend on workers who are willing to do difficult tasks for little pay. Although racial profiling has occurred in the US for years, it is now being sanctioned because conservative politicians are determined that “only Americans” should work in America.

The issue is not a small one; of the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. that are undocumented or considered “illegal aliens,” more than two-thirds are directly placed in the country’s work labor pool. This influx affects the U.S. industrial economy at multiple levels, most notably farming and food production, which critically depends on undocumented “alien” labor. Americans just don’t work such jobs, viewing the pay as too low for work that is manually difficult. America relies on immigrants for survival, but things have been getting even more heated because of the economic strain.

In 2011 four states have already passed legislation making it harder for undocumented workers to simply stay within those jurisdictions, and Alabama has become the fifth. Alabama’s law included an additional concerning requirement for schools to check students’ immigration statuses. Thus, children of color cannot go to school without fear or being harassed and terrorized. There is a lack of a national standard at the federal level, so when states make laws like this that could affect human rights in Alabama, Arizona, and California, there is no means to regulate it yet at a national level in order to make sure that rights are not being violated and people will not be abused.

Campesino Nicholas
Campesino Nicholas uploaded by Robert Dickey on Flickr

Unfortunately, in its zeal to make things “uncomfortable” for targeted groups, Alabama’s state may have infringed on human rights laws, regardless of whether they are undocumented or not. In fundamental areas such as criminal law, education, and emergency health, everyone has a right to certain treatment under federal legislation. The state’s attempt to enforce school immigration checks has brought up the ghosts of its shady past in the Civil Rights movement, and the nation is paying attention. However, the damage in Alabama to countless families has already begun.

In a counter move to the Obama Administration’s protest that the law violated human rights and broke federal law, southern state proponents for tougher immigration pushed for new congressional laws supporting those that exist in Alabama now, trying to part the federal government from interfering with existing state immigration laws. The hope is that by cutting off the Executive branch support, the financial support to sue the affected states will dry up and kill the Department of Justice litigation in its tracks. This political maneuvering despite information that contradicts the belief that Americans want, deserve, and are going to fill the jobs that require food to be picked now, the Alabama legislators have enacted the law, including the school immigration checks.

This has not only disrespected citizens and their outcries, but has had a chilling effect on the communities in Alabama. Parents, worried about immigration officials or law enforcement personnel grabbing their kids on the way to class, have pulled their children out of the institutions. Not only does this hurt the child involved, suddenly losing access to education, it instills fear in multiple generations. Intentionally barring these kids from an education violates federal law, and lays the groundwork for further rights violations.

Alternatives are being discussed, but not fast enough. What is scariest about this law is that despite lack of support from a federal level and a citizen level for many farmers, the law is still enforced. If that is possible, then it is entirely probable that states will continue to enact racist and discriminatory policies that violate federal law and human rights.

About the Guest Author

Anthony recently completed his graduate education in English Literature. A New Mexico native, he currently resides and writes in Seattle, Washington. He writes primarily about education, travel, literature,graduate programs, and American culture.

1 comment

  1. It looks depressingly like harking back. It seems to suggest to me what a state the US is getting itself into. I wonder how it relates to our immigration situation here. Must think about it.


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