When Governor Bentley left his office on the night of June 2 the state of Alabama took a major step backward and entered again into a George Wallace-era culture of discrimination, hate and injustice.
If I had read this column to myself six months ago, I don’t think I would have believed that these words were mine.
But Alabama is at a crossroads. We must do something to combat the looming crisis that will plague our state if we do not act quickly, but we must act objectively and with common sense.
The Alabama immigration law, commonly referred to as House Bill 56 (H.B. 56) or the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, is widely known as the most strict and discriminatory immigration law in the nation.
After numerous lawsuits against the bill, U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn temporarily blocked several measures of the law but allowed many key measures to stand, despite pleas from activist groups, attorneys and even the Obama administration.
The measures in the bill are draconian in ideology and process, making it a crime to hire, harbor or transport an illegal immigrant. It makes it a crime for an illegal immigrant to solicit work, bars them from attending public colleges, and allows law enforcement to detain – without bond – any person suspected of being in the country illegally.
One of the most controversial statutes relates to a mandate to public schools to verify and document the immigration status of every student, which is then reported to the state government.
This policy alone has caused a mass exodus of Hispanics from our state school system.
Many schools across the state have seen a substantial drop in attendance and enrollment of primarily Hispanics since the law was allowed to stand, fearing that sending the children to school will expose the child and family as illegal immigrants.
Illegal immigrant parents are now being forced to make contingency plans for childcare with friends and relatives in case they leave for the grocery store and never come back.
Through H.B. 56, our state has made children – regardless of immigration status – the victims of partisan politics, narrow ideology and a complete lack of concern for state progress.
We must begin to ask ourselves tough questions. What part of this law is humane? What aspect of this law promotes the ideals of the American dream? Is this law worth an innocent child not receiving an education?
We must also begin to question our current path to citizenship and its realistic effectiveness for immigrants who are here illegally.
The citizenship process is a long and outdated system that often takes years to complete, and any one simple error in the process can delay a candidate for citizenship for an additional year or more.
Without stereotyping, think about jobs that immigrants typically hold. They often work very long hours, most have families, and they must juggle all of these weights on top of the fact that they are in the country illegally.
With an application process that can take anywhere from one to five years, it is not realistic that all of these immigrants would have the time, ability, money or resources to file for citizenship for themselves and their families.
A balanced federal approach to immigration reform is needed where both sides can be satisfied, and society, as a whole, is able to progress.
We must fundamentally change our citizenship process to make it more expedited, convenient and realistic for the candidates wishing to become citizens. Measures should still be taken to ensure the safety and security of our homeland, but a faster process could be easily implemented.
We must allow a quasi-amnesty policy for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country. Even with a faster system, nothing could move quickly with a huge influx of more than 12 million applications for citizenship.
With a reformed citizenship process and a quasi-amnesty policy, I would then support strict penalties for individuals found in the country illegally or without documentation. I would support their immediate deportation and would even support Alabama’s measures to bar them from working in the state.
But the status quo is not progressive. We cannot wait for a McCarthy-style witch-hunt for illegal immigrants before we acknowledge a problem.
We cannot allow our state to victimize innocent children who aren’t in school today because they fear the consequences.
We cannot sit on the sidelines while our state is on the verge of chaos.
We must come together to find a balanced approach to immigration to allow our state to take strides towards compromise and progress.
Austin Gaddis is a junior majoring in public relations and communication studies. His column runs biweekly on Thursdays.