Sen. Scott Beason, the Gardendale Republican who sponsored Alabama’s immigration reform law, is a racist, at least in the eyes of one United States District Court.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson used a motion before his court as a soapbox from which he blasted Beason and his political pal, former state Rep. Benjamin Lewis. Lewis and Beason were supposed to be the star witnesses in last summer’s public corruption trial of gambling magnate Milton McGregor and eight others, but covert recordings made by Beason revealed an ulterior motive for their cooperation. The two men were, in short, racists who were exploiting the Justice Department to kneecap their political opponents, Judge Thompson argued. Further, Thompson said the men’s sentiments were not directed only at Greene County blacks, who Beason referred to as “aborigines,” but were also hurtful to native Americans, as well.
It was, perhaps, the harshest attack I’ve seen a federal judge make against a party who was not a convicted defendant. The judge’s commentary was tangential, but not gratuitous. While the ruling did not mention HB56, the immigration bill was an unseen thread woven between the lines. It was written apart from the immigration debate, but written to be read by the public in that context. Thompson was giving Beason’s opponents another weapon to use against him. Beason’s racism is now a finding of fact by a federal court.
While Thompson’s assessment might be a dissenting opinion in the eyes of Beason’s supporters, around the world, critics are reaching the same conclusion. Perhaps unfairly to Beason, he has become the face of HB56, more so than Mickey Hammon or Robert Bentley. Certainly he’s more recognizable than the majority of Alabama lawmakers who voted for the bill.
The GOP was once the practical party that pinched pennies and believed in small government, but HB56 has made government bigger, not smaller. HB56 is government regulation. Anyone now seeking services from a publicly funded entity must show proof of citizenship. Want a flu shot from the Jefferson County Health Department? You’d better be American. Need a library card in Shelby County? You’d better bring your birth certificate.
Once opposed to government meddling, the GOP is now the papers please party, and Alabama’s license plates (if you can get one) should read, “The Heart-less of Dixie.”
Supposedly, illegal immigrants cost money and don’t pay taxes, so HB56 remedies this problem with a law too expensive for local law enforcement to even take seriously that prohibits illegal immigrants from paying taxes. What did the bills sponsors think car tags were but a tax? Decoration? A way to tell passing motorists which college you went to? Nor are illegal immigrants allowed to pay property taxes on mobile homes.
Apologists for HB56 say it is a reaction to the federal government’s failure to manage illegal immigration. But federal law has failed because our immigration policies are unenforceable, even with Predator drones patrolling the border. American immigration law is a dam against an unstoppable river. Fiscal conservatives should know better than to fight Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Instead, Alabama’s immigration law seeks to remedy an unenforceable federal law with an unenforceable state law.
HB56 is supposed to help lawful citizens find employment, but what jobs? While the argument that Americans are too good or too lazy for hard field work is itself racist (more on that in a moment), Alabama doesn’t just need jobs to fix its unemployment problem. It needs good-paying jobs that inject cash into the state economy. Alabama needs tech jobs, research jobs and high-end manufacturing. “Let them pick tomatoes” isn’t the ticket to prosperity. It’s a path to perpetual poverty. HB56 is supposed to improve employment opportunities, but the message it sends to major businesses is that we’re all a bunch of half-brained, inbred bigots who don’t cotton much to outsiders, whether they be the tired huddled masses or more worldly and wealthy investors.
For the sake of Alabama, Beason and his ilk have to be beaten back and HB56 must be repealed (although the courts seem to be doing as much one piece at a time). But it’s not enough to progressives and liberals to attack the state’s immigration law. Supporting the status quo, which many HB56 opponents are content to do, is not enough.
To begin with, all the talk about what Mexicans can do/should do versus what Americans can do/should do has got to stop. In the media and in casual conversation, I’ve heard the argument: Americans don’t want to do this work. Nobody wants the work because it’s too hard or doesn’t pay enough.
So this is why Latinos, whether legal or illegal, should do it instead? That tack is at least as racist as Judge Thompson found Beason to be. If you’ve made this argument, please repeat after me: Mexicans are not Oompa-Loompas, no matter how tan or short they might be. If Americans think the work is too hard to not lucrative enough, perhaps that’s evidence that it doesn’t pay enough or that many of the farmers and other employers were, in fact, exploiting cheap labor that couldn’t unionize or complain to OSHA.
There is a human rights and pro-labor argument for meaningful and enforceable immigration reform, but to make it work, liberals have to do something they might otherwise retch at the thought of: They must fall in line with George W. Bush.
Between 2005 and 2007, the last statesmen of the United States Congress proposed a series of immigration reform bills, the synthesis of those being the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Variations on the reform bill would have given a path to citizenship for immigrants already here who had otherwise caused no trouble. It would have broadened the country’s guest worker program. And it would have included the dream act to give illegal immigrant children a path to citizenship, either through college education or service in the military. Finally, it would have increased enforcement along the boarders. It was practical, humane and enforceable. And it was killed by many of the same folks who now support HB56. They poisoned the debate with a single word — amnesty — which in its utterance, wasn’t properly inflected without the kind of seething that sends spittle from the lips. President Bush pushed the bill as hard as he had any other, but without the support of his own party, he shelved the plan.
It’s time to dust off that plan, and opponents of HB56 should make that happen. If Senators Richard Shelby or Jeff Sessions won’t, then Terri Sewell must. If President Bush couldn’t, then President Obama must say, yes, he can. Alabama needs an alternative to HB56 that makes sense. America does, too.