When Legislation Encourages Discrimination
It is possible to enact legislation that justifies discrimination and panders to our least attractive inclinations. Such was the case with the decision to detain Japanese-American citizens during World War II and the enactment of the Jim Crow laws that existed until the mid-nineteen-sixties. The current anti-immigrations laws enacted by some states like Arizona and Alabama are kin to those laws in that they suggest that it’s really OK to discriminate on the basis of color.
I recognize the frustration of citizens regarding our country’s lack of a sound, thoughtful, workable immigration policy. Alabama argues that the state law will reduce the number of illegal immigrants on public assistance; perhaps it will. The state also argues that the law will open up jobs for legal residents; it will not. American workers have shown little inclination to apply for the low-paying, strenuous jobs on farms and in poultry factories usually held by illegal immigrants in Alabama and in other states. Indeed, some farmers and fruit growers are complaining that their harvests rot in the fields because there are no workers to pick fruit and vegetables.
Courts have struck down some of the provisions of the Alabama law, including the provision requiring public schools to verify the citizenship status of students. As a result, some Hispanic children are returning to schools across Alabama, although many in the northern part of the state have already officially withdrawn. Albertville, Alabama lost about 9% of its 1,170 Hispanic students. School superintendent Dr. Frederic Ayer says it has been an emotional time for students and teachers. “Many of the students who withdrew said good-bye to their teachers and friends before leaving,” he says. “Many had been in our system for years.”
A side effect of Alabama’s law appears to be an uptick in bullying incidents directed toward Hispanic kids, according to parents interviewed by the Associated Press. The Justice Department is attempting to track whether the incidents are related to the new law by establishing a bilingual telephone hotline and email account for residents to report incidents of bullying. Interestingly enough, the Alabama Department of Education hasn’t received any complaints about bullying relative to the law according to a spokesperson.
Of course it hasn’t. It doesn’t seem likely that Hispanics, legal or illegal, would be contacting government officials in Alabama in the wake of the new law. In the meantime, what happens to Hispanic kids, legal or illegal, who are in this country and who need to be educated?