Originally published May 7, 2012
There is a disturbing report out of Alabama about the unintended consequences of a “papers please” law. Hispanic children are afraid to go to school. On May 2, over 1,300 Hispanic-heritage students were absent from schools across Alabama. The normal absentee rate for all Alabama students is 900 to 1,000 daily. There has also been a substantial increase in drop-outs among the Hispanic population.
Part of the Alabama “papers please” law called for the schools to collect immigration information about all enrolling students. It does not block undocumented students from attending schools, but can create a database for future arrests of illegal immigrants. The law was blocked from implementation by a Federal Court of Appeals last October.
The state has been sued by the Federal government over the “papers please” law, and an Alabama State Senator, Scott Beason, told The Montgomery Advertiser, “The Department of Justice has already made it clear they’re on the side of illegal immigration. Anything they say or do to try to bully the State of Alabama or other states across the country does not surprise me.” And, therein lies the battle line. Conservatives and Republicans say the Obama administration favors illegal immigrants over native Americans, even claiming that the President was elected because the Democrats made it possible for illegals to vote. And they absolutely refuse to believe the facts about the number of illegals who have been prevented or deported and the decline in the number of illegals in the country because they are choosing to go home. The administration says that the Constitution is clear that only the Federal government has authority over immigration and we cannot have 50 different laws and 50 different policies.
In Alabama, Hispanic students are not necessarily dropping out or truant because they are illegal or their parents are illegal. They are missing school because they are being harassed, bullied and isolated from their classmates for special “assemblies” about the law.
Several years ago in Georgia, in areas about Atlanta, a man was approaching people he believed were Hispanic and suggesting that he was a Federal agent while he demanded to see their papers. What does an Hispanic look like? How did this man profile them? In his view, Mexicans look a lot like Native Americans, so those are the people he targeted, anyone who looked like a descendant of the Pueblo and the Inuit. He was not unique in his belief that anyone who looked Mexican had to be illegal. The small city I lived in in Georgia had two shrimp processing plants. Out of pure frustration with an inability to hire and retain workers, the two plants brought in Mexicans. One recruited 500 families in Brownsville, Texas. They other arranged for rotations of nine-month workers visas. One-third of their 500 Mexicans rotated home every three months. Yet, in a town as small as ours, where the news of these hiring decisions had made every imaginable news media, there were still people who believed that all those Mexicans were illegals. They also said that they weren’t paying taxes at their jobs and were getting all kinds of government benefits and their base pay was higher. The Mexicans’ base pay was not higher, they simply earned more because they worked overtime and never missed a day of work. I spent an hour listening to one of the locally-born employees of one of the plants ranting about the Mexicans in a laundromat, just before she called in “sick” to work because her clothes hadn’t dried yet.
Seventeen percent of our population is of Hispanic descent, 53 million of us. There are only 11 million illegals, and it is unclear if they responded to the census in 2010. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that they did respond to the census. That means only one-fifth of all Hispanics are illegals. That means that 42 million Hispanics are legal immigrants or descendants of immigrants or descendants of those who were living on the land when it became part of the United States.
Hispanics have babies. They are the fastest growing ethnic group in America. That means they have children in school. A lot of children. The anti-immigrant atmosphere that the right wing is fueling is putting those children at risk of bullying. They are also being denied educations and without educations can become a permanent underclass. Immigrants have always valued the American education system. Too many of them came from places where only those with money got educations. Immigrants understand that education is the way their children will be able to access the American dream. And after so many generations of being second-class citizens, Hispanic-Americans were finally seeing advances, election to public office, higher positions in companies, ownership of businesses. Now, their children are having a harder time than they had and that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
Between forty and fifty million Hispanics, Latinos and descendants are being marginalized by immigration hysteria. They are the latest victims of a pattern that has been played out in this “land of immigrants” since the beginning. Each new immigrant group was treated as a threat to “real Americans.” Immigrants were blamed for every recession and depression in our history, and there have been dozens of them. And the real bitch? All of them are descended from people who were here before those Europeans who think this is their country.