By James Rhodes –
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Victoria Siciliano, communications coordinator for the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, recently hosted a community informational forum at the Civil Rights Institute downtown. The primary purpose of the gathering was to raise awareness regarding the plight of the resident immigrants as well as to showcase their personal stories and contributions to the state and region.
There was a panel discussion; art and educational exhibits; Hispanic foods food catered by Mi Pueblo; and private time with the immigrant families themselves.
Under the banner of “Change is Possible” and the motto “One Family, One Alabama,” a diverse variety of resident immigrants shared their stories. The common thread all had was fear of violence in their own countries and after coming to America they had achieved and were contributing to a better life-and their lies the problem-our current legal system recognizes, depending on who is doing the interpretation, political asylum but has never recognized economic well being or social improvement as a legitimate reason to enter the United States.
In 1970 only .4% of the Southeast was Hispanic. From 2000-2010 eleven of the twelve Southern states saw the largest increase in Hispanic populations in all of the United States. Significant growth, as this, breeds fear into the ruling plantation class creating push back and efforts to legally suppress and oppress potential conflicting political movements of the future, especially in the areas of human rights and labor laws.
It is no accident that this concern has generated and fueled Republican efforts to push through legislation against alleged voter fraud, always targeting minority and economically deprived communities; and now their efforts include attempts to repeal the Constitutional right of birthright citizenship, which they term as “anchor babies” in essence illegally stealing U.S. citizenship.
In a concerted effort to stop this, Kris Kobach (R-KS) coauthored the nation’s most restrictive and oppressive anti-immigrant legislation, Arizona’s S.B. 1070. However, unbelievably Alabama’s G.O.P. (apparently stands for government oppressing people) felt Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation was far too liberal which led to the passing of Alabama’s own H.B. 56-but there is a personal hidden agenda here and to grasp it, the story of Governor Robert Bentley (R) needs to be examined.
In the governor’s race of almost eight years ago Bentley defeated Ron Sparks, the former Democratic Commissioner of Agriculture. Sparks was a supporter of health care reform (OBAMACARE); proposed a state lottery whereas Alabama could get out of debt and produce a balanced budget; but most notably Sparks opened Cuban markets to Alabama agriculture-an event few, even today, know about as it is seldom discussed.
The GOP, along with their conservative fundamentalist Christian allies, painted Sparks as some type of ‘Socialist, Communist, anti-Christian evil for Alabama candidate’ whereas Bentley was a good ole boy, home grown conservative with good Christian-Alabama values.
Few mentioned that the Bentley campaign was flooded with gaming money out of the neighboring lottery states of Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and the casino state of Mississippi.
In a repulsive violation of church and state activities, Bentley supporters visited many high schools in an attempt to get graduating seniors to sign a pledge that they would never accept “corrupting lottery money” (if such a measure was passed) to attend an Alabama community college, college, or university. Note: Georgia has the lottery supported Hope Scholarship Fund for their graduating seniors to attend Georgia institutions of higher education and I don’t know of any scientific studies to support that their souls have thus far been condemned.
Once the family values Bentley had been elected, like Trump, he began to realize ‘this job is harder than it seems’ and he did the unforgivable-he began to consider a state lottery to bring the state out of debt. This, unknown to him at the time, became his irrevocable kiss of death; in spite of this, Bentley soldiered on to win back what he felt was his conservative base. In violation of his oath as a medical doctor, Bentley refused (Obama’s) Medicade expansion which would have provided an additional 254,000 Alabama residents with medical coverage (familiesUSA.org).
Bentley also signed into law the nation’s most restrictive anti-immigrant legislation H.B. 56 which he was sure would bring him back into the good graces of his ultra-right wing, conservative colleagues. What was not known at the time was Bentley’s real motivation. This was the personal experience of Newt Gingrich, serial adultery, and the continued good graces of the national Republican Party which Bentley hoped to imitate.
Dianne was the name of Bentley’s wife; Jon was the name of Rebekah Mason’s husband. Apparently, it is alleged, Mason was put on the state payroll to be Bentley’s mistress-as such, she was Bentley’s travelling companion almost until the date Bentley resigned his position under threat of criminal prosecution.
In search of state jobs (as reported by AL.com), Bentley’s “delegation” attended the Paris Air Show ($87,000) and the London Air Show ($100,000); as well as “economic events” in Korea; Japan; China…
Bentley and Mason also attended the Trump inauguration as well as a Republican Governor’s Conference in Las Vegas where the pair attended a Celine Dion concert complete with a back stage meet and greet package. Bentley was apparently so smitten with the Quebec, Canada native that he made her an “honorary Alabamian.” How ironic is this?
Alabama’s racist roots against “those different from us” far exceed the Bentley governorship.
During the 1830s when President Jackson was attempting to remove the Native Americans whereas he could steal their land and give it to his campaign contributors and elite business interests of the time period, the “savage uncivilized” natives took Jackson to court-one particular case made its way to the Supreme Court (Worchester v Georgia: 31 US 515, 1832). Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Native Americans, Jackson disregarded the decision and instituted Indian removal from the Southeast (Jackson in essence stated he had an army, the Supreme Court did not); and this is how, I believe, Jackson became Trump’s favorite president.
A little more than a decade later, Jackson would support President James K. Polk’s invasion of Mexico as the Mexicans “like the Indians” were “an inferior race, undeserving of their lands…of inferior culture…with an inferior religion…” (2) And thus this is how California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma became part of the United States-the alleged “will of God” through Manifest Destiny, force, and slavery.
The A.C.I.J. event concluded with the impassioned oratories from many undocumented residents: “We are not evil…we are not criminals…” Morally they are indeed correct but legally they are probably wrong. The vision of the SS Saint Louis came to mind where over 900 illegal Jewish refugees were denied entry into the United States in 1939. They were deported back to Nazi Germany where approximately 300 were sent to their demise in state run death camps.
This, I think, should be the focus of our debate: can we live with ourselves if we are legally right but morally wrong? If these undocumented residents were lighter skinned and fundamentalist, we would not be having this discussion; but, that is another issue…
1. www.acij.net; firstname.lastname@example.org; (205) 945-0777
2. Amy Greenberg, “A Wicked War” 2012; “Illinois State Register” 17 July 1846; “Floridian” 1 August 1846; May & Hine, “A Question of Manhood” 1999.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.