Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Alabama State Senator Scott “aborigines” Beason: “When their children grow up and get the chance to vote, they vote for Democrats.”

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, June 18, 2012

Garbage like this infuriates me to no end.

What kind of garbage am I referring to?

I’m referring to the kind of racist garbage that has been HB56 – the state’s lazy attempt to “do something” about illegal immigration.

And just for the record, it is my considered opinion that Alabama State Senator Scott Beason is a lazy, incompetent, racist who is so lazy that he wouldn’t even pick up a bucket to pick vegetables when one was thrust toward him by an Alabama farmer who stood to lose millions in a crop that HB56 forbade him to hire migrant farm workers. (Alabama tomato farmer Leroy Smith, Chad Smith’s father, challenged Beason to pick a bucket full of tomatoes and experience the labor-intensive work. Beason declined but promised to see what could be done to help farmers while still trying to keep illegal immigrants out of Alabama. Smith threw down the bucket he offered Beason and said, “There, I figured it would be like that.” {There you have it. Scott Beason is a man too Goddamn lazy to put in an honest, hard day’s labor. What a worthless, shit eating, son-of-a-bitch. ed.})

Migrant farm workers have been, and continue to be an integral part of this nation’s agricultural production.

Alabama’s version of Arizona’s immigration law was written by xenophobic Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who, in his legal/political career has written laws that have consistently been struck down after judicial scrutiny & review, as well as having come under fire within his own profession by complaints of racism by University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law as far back as 2003.

To give the man his due, however, he is a very hard-working man, and was involved with honor society, debate team, forensics, student council, spirit club and intramurals while at Harvard, where he graduated in 1988. Having won a Marshall Scholarship from the British government, he attended Oxford and completed a Ph.D. in political science in 1992. He then was accepted at Yale Law School, where he taught political science to undergraduates and won a Prize Teaching Fellowship in 1994.

But then, I suppose, some might consider Adolph Hitler a hard-working man.

In 2001, he was awarded a prestigious White House fellowship, and reported for duty at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Sept. 1. Ten days later, the United States suffered the worst-ever terrorist attack on American soil. Though he was not a specialist in immigration law or policy, Kobach became Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief advisor on immigration and border security.

Interestingly, in 2002 Kobach reduced the number of Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) judges from 19 to 11, which many believe was significantly responsible for creating a significant backlog of immigration hearings.

By 2005, so much criticism had been leveled at the DOJ’s purported “streamlining” and at what appeared to be “a pattern of biased and incoherent decisions” that DOJ started proposing to boost the number of judges and to mandate full opinions instead of one-line decisions, effectively reversing Kobach’s efforts.

The Strange Career of Juan Crow

Opinion By DIANE McWHORTER Published: June 16, 2012
 THE depth of my alienation from home hit me last January, when Alabama shut out Louisiana State for the college football championship. Even in the familiar afterglow of ’Bama’s second title in three years, I had to ask myself, what right did my state have to brag, about anything?

An illegal immigrant, the mother of two boys born in the United States, in Alabama. (Rich Addicks for The New York Times)

The pride of the Crimson Tide fan is just the relatively fun side of the state’s reason-blind tribalism, the same hard-wiring that produced its other recent superlative, the “toughest in the nation” immigration law that made criminal suspects of an entire class of human beings — and turned those who tolerated their presence into felon accessories. Thanks to H.B. 56 (the “Beason-Hammon Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act”), passed a year ago by the state’s first Republican Legislature since Reconstruction, I am ashamed of being from Alabama.

The contagion of Alabama’s shame became apparent in April, during the oral argument before the Supreme Court on Arizona’s immigration legislation, the test case for several similar state laws aimed primarily at Hispanics. All have been substantially blocked by federal courts, except Alabama’s, most of which went into effect last fall, catastrophically achieving the goal Arizona calls “attrition through enforcement” — also known as “self-deportation.”

As the court seemed to cast a benign eye on the linchpin of the Arizona law — the requirement that the police determine the immigration status of anyone they stop who invites “reasonable suspicion” of illegal residency — I realized how dismayingly reliable Alabama remained as the country’s moral X-ray, exposing the broken places. So on the eve of the Arizona decision, expected this month, it is useful to review what the imposition of “states’ rights” on federal immigration policy looks like in the one state where this has been accomplished. If Alabama, the cradle of the civil rights movement, can retool Jim Crow as Juan Crow, what have we learned?

Since Alabama has no foreign border and a Latino population of less than 4 percent, the main purpose of H.B. 56 seems to be the id-gratification of tribal dominance and its easy political dividends. A bill co-sponsor, State Senator Scott Beason, was frank about his motive: “when their children grow up and get the chance to vote, they vote for Democrats.”

Mr. Beason, who was later caught referring to blacks as “aborigines,” is from a predominantly white suburb of my hometown, Birmingham, which is gearing up for the 50th anniversary of our civil rights milestones of 1963: fire hoses and police dogs turned on child marchers and a church bombing that killed four black girls. For the 2013 “celebration,” the prize civic leaders were keeping their eyes on was the redemption that flowed from those debacles, notably the Civil Rights Act.

The city had nearly finessed that dialectic during the memorial in October for a local civil rights legend, the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth. Flying into the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, the protagonists of the movement — Andrew Young, John Lewis, Joseph Lowery — were greeted at the funeral by Gov. Robert Bentley with words of regret about his segregated youth. So cordial was the network of mutuality that it was at least an hour into the six-hour service before speakers pointed out that Governor Bentley had signed the immigration law that reinvented the sin from which Mr. Shuttlesworth had supposedly delivered us.

As a result, the yearlong anniversary is shaping up to be Groundhog Day. Among other injustices, H.B. 56 bars undocumented residents from pursuing work or entering into any state-related business transactions or private contracts, depriving them of basic dignities and due process. When the Justice Department investigated the state for demanding checks on schoolchildren, the defiant reaction of Alabama’s attorney general prompted comparisons to George C. Wallace’s 1963 “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” at the University of Alabama.

At least one institution was primed to break out of the loop of bad history. Leading with a reference to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” some 150 ministers formally condemned H.B. 56 for preventing them from fulfilling the doctrine of the good Samaritan by making it illegal to give assistance to illegal immigrants, the basis of a suit against the state by three Christian denominations. A statement co-author, Matt Lacey, received dozens of e-mails from the law’s defenders beginning, “I’m a Christian but.” They saw no distinction between the bureaucratic category of “undocumented” and the moral one of “criminal” — a conflation that may also explain Justice Antonin Scalia’s incredulous question to the solicitor general: “Are you objecting to harassing the people who have no business being here?”

Indeed, the suffering of Alabama’s Hispanics went mostly unnoticed until December, when Human Rights Watch issued a report describing entrepreneurs shuttering businesses, crime victims opting not to go to the police, parents fearing to seek medical help for children. These were the law’s intended consequences: to attack “every aspect of an illegal alien’s life,” said a co-sponsor, Micky Hammon, “so they will deport themselves.”

Such unabashed malice made me realize that my shame was really a broken heart. The South’s culture of kindness is real and must account for the most poignant theme of the Human Rights Watch report: how many of those repudiated “aliens” professed an attachment to Alabama. “I love here,” said a 19-year-old, in the state since he was 9. Now the cycle of bigotry is renewed, poisoning a new generation of Americans on both sides.

ALABAMA’S civic conscience stayed unperturbed until a media festival erupted over H.B. 56’s unintended consequences: the brief detention in November of a German executive visiting the revered local Mercedes plant. Benz-gate, and the subsequent Barney Fife-ish treatment of a Japanese manager for Honda, combined with citizen annoyance over the new paperwork to convince the business community and much of official Alabama that H.B. 56 had to be “fixed.” A University of Alabama economist placed the law’s damage to the state in the billions of dollars.

The symbols of redemption rallied. Civil rights and labor leaders traveled to meetings of shareholders, asking them to pressure Alabama for repeal. The annual re-enactment of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights was refashioned as an anti-H.B. 56 protest. My heart began to mend at a perverse prospect: in half a century, would Alabama be honoring the remarkable community uprising that overcame H.B. 56? The coup de grâce seemed to occur in March, when Mr. Beason lost his primary race for the House of Representatives.

“I had really hoped Alabama would be a place that could learn from its mistakes,” Mr. Lacey warned me, “but it doesn’t want to be that.” In May the Legislature passed an “improved” bill sponsored by Mr. Beason, even more severe than the original. It forced the police to obtain papers from passengers as well as drivers, and it ordered the state to maintain a database of known “illegals,” recalling antebellum ads spotlighting runaway slaves. The law still exempts domestics, observing the plantation hierarchy of “house Negroes” and “field hands.”

Mr. Beason was most likely emboldened by the forecasts of a constitutional future for his Arizona template, which should impress the court with the gravity of its responsibility. Tempting as it is to raise the specter of 1896 — Plessy v. Ferguson’s “separate but equal” precedent — the better analogy is the 1955 decision known as Brown II, which ordered Southern schools desegregated “with all deliberate speed” but left that task to the segregationists who provoked the humanitarian crisis in the first place.

We know how the fight will turn out, just as it was long obvious the Constitution could not condone segregation forever. But the fight will be ceaselessly reprised, shattering lives before the inevitable is allowed to happen.

At least in Alabama, the civil rights movement, like the football team, knows what it takes to win.

Diane McWhorter is the author of “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on June 17, 2012, on page SR8 of the New York edition with the headline: The Strange Career of Juan Crow.


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