A Conservative Alabama Solution to Immigration: I Can Dream, Can’t I?

Governor Bentley (center)

So I went to a party for a friend recently and the Alabama immigration bill came up.  My friend, who is a business owner whose work is connected to the legal world, listened to the conversation, then said, “Look, there’s a simple solution to this.  If you’re an immigrant in this state and undocumented, you have six months to come forward and get registered, and after that we kick you out.”  But why would you do that, I asked, knowing you’d be thrown directly in jail, do not pass go or collect anything?

“Easy,” he said, “You give them a temporary worker status.  They pay taxes and social security and contribute to the economy.”  So it’s not citizenship?  “No, of course not.  You go to the back of the line for that.  You can’t vote, you’re just a guest worker, and it’s a temporary status.  But at least we know who you are and you contribute to the tax coffers.”  Well, that sounded pretty good to me.

Seems to me that the point of law is compliance, not just punishment.  If farmers need workers and immigrants can answer that need, that’s letting the marketplace and competition take care of it, not government quotas.  Alabama’s farms and employer determine the number of immigrants by who they hire, not by Washington telling them we can only have this or that number.  That’s conservative, and you have to announce that you’re conservative to even be elected dogcatcher in Alabama.

Furthermore, that’s smaller government.  We don’t spend more money on jails, police, and bureaucracy.  We keep the operation in Alabama rather than letting the federal government tell us what Alabama needs.  That’s conservative, seems to me.  More jails?  More agencies from Washington?

But what about national security?  Well, since 27 million people visit the US every year on a temporary basis for vacations, seems to me we can come up with a computerized fingerprinted criminal background check system.

Getting people registered lets us know who they are.  Hiding in the shadows is more dangerous, not less.  If they have a job, pay taxes, we have their fingerprints and know their name, we’re a lot safer than letting huge numbers of unknown people slink around unaccounted for.  And that’s just the Canadians.

Of course, I can imagine the conversation in the Legislature, but since it’s my dream, maybe it would go like this:

“Well, if we do this, it’ll look like we’re backing off our promise to kick all those people out of Alabama.  We’d look weak.”

“Yeah?  Well, it might keep our tomato farmers and construction companies from kicking us out of Montgomery.  Besides, the churches get off our backs, we calm the thing down and don’t look like hateful jerks to the world.”

“Hey, you know, you might have something there.  We’d get sued, though, this time by the Feds for usurping their power to regulate immigration.”

“Of course,  That’s our point.  They’re not doing their job.  Somebody needs to embarrass them into doing it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean forever, PR-wise, conservatives get painted as heartless, racist, uncaring and all of those other things that smear our state’s image.  They always go back to the sixties and the race issue.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is, here we are again, clobbering mostly helpless people with a law that makes us look mean, even if we’re just mirroring federal law.  What if we went BEYOND federal law, but this time in a positive direction?  We wouldn’t be giving them citizenship, we’d be granting temporary status.  It could be based on having a job and references from our citizens.  Local counties could administer the records, they pay a reasonable fee for the annual guest worker license, which we use to hire people to run those offices.  They come out of the shadows and register.  They pay taxes on their cars, income, and possessions like everybody else.  They rent our apartments and houses, they work.  They buy things.”

“Look, the Attorney General is going to sue us that this isn’t our right as a state.”

“Don’t you see the brilliance of this?  Alabama gets sued by the Federal Government for being too compassionate and sane toward immigrants?  When is the last time THAT happened?”

“Wow.  Didn’t see that one coming.  Brilliant!”

**********

Not likely, I know.  But it’s my dream.  It COULD happen.  I had never lived in Alabama until 18 years ago.  The people are generous, kind, good to their neighbors, hard-working and always willing to do the  right thing.  They are conservative, but most are not the stereotypical meanies in the movies.  Yes, we have our racists and plenty of them.  And we have our fears.  But mostly we just want things to be fair.  So when my Senator said in the paper recently that they were going to tweak the bill and fix some things, I hoped once more.  Alabama could do it.  We could show the rest of the nation how polite, religious, caring neighbors treat strangers and fix a broken system.  Let Eric Holder sue us for that.  It would be a delight.

About Gary Furr

Gary is a musician, writer and Christian minister living in Alabama.

Posted on November 1, 2011, in Culture, Economics, Ethics, Immigration, Race, Theology and Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I’d go a little further. If a person can prove they’ve been here for say, three to five years, and is employed, I’d say, “Congratulations! You’re a citizen. Here’s your social security card and a FICA schedule for your boss.”

    Of course there will be some “bad” guys who’d sneak in, but many more legitimate ones would qualify. Do spot background checks, etc.

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