Danielle Beach-Oswald has done a superb job of describing the details of anti-immigrant laws that have been adopted in states in the deep South such as Alabama and Georgia. By doing so, she makes it easier to understand the full extent of the irrationality and hatred motivating these laws. Should anyone be surprised? These two states were at the center of the resistance to racial desegregation during the Civil Rights era in the 1950's and 1960's.
Alabama was the home of Governor George Wallace and Sheriff Bull Connor. It was in Alabama that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from Birmingham jail and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, setting off the Montgomery bus boycott. Georgia was the home of Governor Lester Maddox, who became famous by standing in the doorway of his store with an ax handle to keep any black person from entering. Those two states, though by no means the only Southern states to do so, were also known for their lynch mobs, their laws banning interracial marriage and their battle cry: "Segregation Forever!"
Anone who thinks for a single instant that the history of racial segregation and persecution in those two states half a century ago has nothing to do with their extreme anti-immigrant laws today is deluding himself. But anyone who thinks that the danger of extreme anti-immigrant laws with the objective of making life intolerable for all Spanish-speaking and other minority immigrants is limited to state legislatures, inside or outside the old South, is also deluded.
H.R. 3447, passed by the Republican House of Representatives in late 2005, in some ways would have made the Alabama and Georgia laws read like a pro-immigrant bill of rights by comparison. The 2005 House bill, for example, if I recall correctly, would have made each day in the US without authorization a separate felony punishable by up to five years in prison. It would have imposed the same penalty on anyone, including a US citizen, who provided assistance to anyone who was in the US illegally. Fortunately, the bill never made it to the Senate, where it had no chance of passage in any event.
If the House bill had become law, the jails might have been full of American emergency room doctors, lawyers advising immigrant clients, or, possibly even bus or taxi drivers who failed to check the immigration status of their passengers; and restaurant customers who tipped a waiter without asking to see the person's papers first, or store clerks who sold merchandise to customers without doing the same. Yet, 2005 was a golden age of immigration tolerance compared to today.
The two major parties were making an historic effort to reach a compromise on immigration reform, with the active support and involvement of the president, not just empty words. If Congressional Republicans could produce a lunatic fringe immigration bill such as H.R. 3447 back in 2005, when the economy was going well and there was no such thing as the Tea Party, it does not take much imagination to guess what kind of immigration laws they would pass if they were able to take control of both Houses of Congrsss and the White House next year.
But where does the greatest danger of what could amount one day soon to a Congressional moratorium on all immigration come from? There is a good argument that it comes from the current debt ceiling negotiations between President Obama and the Congressional Republican leaders. But wait a minute. What connection is there between immigration and the budget? Am I trying to say that there might not be enough money to keep the immgration system going? Not at all. True, there may be some very nasty budget cuts or shutdowns ahead, but that is not the main point.
The government can always find a way to keep whatever programs it wants to in place. No matter what happens with the debt ceiling or the credit rating of the US, there will always be money for "Secure Communities" and e-verify. Of that, we can be sure. My point is quite different. John F. Kennedy, before becoming president, wrote a book called "Profiles in Courage". If someone were to write a book today called "Profiles in Cowardice", the opening, middle and closing chapters would unquestionably be about Barack Obama.
It is hard to think of an issue that the Obama has not caved into the Republicans on since becoming president, including adopting their "enforcement-only" immigration agenda lock stock and barrel (OK, granted, he has not yet adopted their gun control policies, so maybe my phraseology in this sentence is a little misplaced). But, aside from immigration, few things are more outrageous and a betrayal of everything he campaigned for than his overeagerness to give away the store on social safety net issues, such as Social Security and Medicare, without insisting the the rich begin to pay their fair share of taxes.
Not only the Tea Party pro big business fanatics, but all Republicans, now know, if they never did before, that the president is a soft touch who can be had on any issue, not just the budget. Even if Obama were not already rushing to deport more than 400,000 people each year, far beyond the wildest dreams of even the most anti-immigrant Republicans during the Bush era, all immigrant haters will understand that if Obama can rip up the social safety net for American citizens in his eagerness to surrender the Republicans, he will have no hesitation in throwing even more immigrants under the bus too.
Ultimately, Obama's readiness to sell out his principles on any issue is something that may be beyond the capacity of a political analyst to understand. It may require the skills of a psychologist. The president's actions on immigration so far are no exception.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.