While I’m proud to call Alabama my home state, I can’t help but feel increasingly unnerved by the recent events brought on by HB56, Alabama’s immigration law, which surpasses even Arizona’s in its specificity and ramifications. As the harmful consequences of this law materialize, Gov. Robert Bentley and all other Republicans — myself included — must step back and observe the bigger picture. Laws of this kind look nice on paper, but unfortunately represent a fundamental ignorance of the American reality.
Perhaps the greatest recent accomplishment of Alabama is its ability to call itself home to the only Mercedes-Benz manufacturing plant in the United States. On Nov. 16, however, this relationship was stunted when a visiting Mercedes executive was arrested for not carrying appropriate documentation of citizenship after a routine traffic violation. Though much apology from Alabama officials quickly ensued, the incident was damning, only feeding the growing sentiment that HB56 is destroying Alabama’s reputation as a credible place to conduct business. The company’s 1993 decision to establish itself in Alabama encouraged Hyundai, Honda and Toyota to follow suit, creating unprecedented job growth and economic prosperity within the region. To risk ties with the very foundation of Alabama’s industrial success is just plain irresponsible.
Other consequences have been less glamorous. As working illegal immigrants have fled the state, Alabama has witnessed the vacating of close to 3,000 construction positions in one month. Contractors and landscapers are no longer able to quote prices 60 days prior to a job, because the workforce availability is now unpredictable. The agriculture industry is in shambles, with the highest-grossing vegetable farms closing their doors, some with generations of production behind their names. Brian Cash, an Alabama tomato farmer, summed it up this way: “Tomato production contributes $1.6 billion a year to the state’s economy, but without immigrant labor, that money will disappear.”
HB56 is accomplishing what it promised, however. More and more jobs are being freed up for Alabamians.
But what happens when unemployed citizens don’t want those jobs? The law represents a stark disconnect between the ideal and the reality. At first glance, it seems logical: through strict measures, prevent all hiring of illegal immigrants, thereby disincentivizing the reasons to cross over in the first place, providing more jobs for Alabamians. In a perfect world, this solution is spot-on. But Alabama officials have failed to recognize the post-FDR America in which we live: one held up by the perpetual crutch of the welfare state.
Unfortunately, we reside in a society in which a false sense of entitlement reigns, only amplified by Barack Obama’s presidency. Through Obama’s $1.3 trillion welfare package, our country has seen the greatest growth of the welfare state in its 235 years, making even Lyndon Johnson look soft. We no longer expect happiness to require pursuit; today, we think our success and happiness are our birthright.
Illegal immigrants do not carry this mentality. They do not share our cushion of benefits, and thus find no qualms with picking Brian Cash’s tomatoes if it means they have food on the table the next evening.
If we didn’t have such an engrained sense of entitlement, would unemployed Americans feel the same way? On another note, is welfare the better option? Under this system, an American can fulfill his or her daily needs with government handouts only slightly less than the minimum wage. Truly, why should one enter into the arduousness of field labor if the aforementioned holds consistently true? In this way, the welfare system puts a threshold on personal responsibility. This is why Brian Cash now sees an empty field outside his window.
The larger question of promoting the American workforce while at the same time discouraging illegal immigration is fundamental. I don’t claim to know the answer to this. I do know, however, that the root of the problem is not what HB56 claims it to be. In Alabama especially, undocumented workers are at the productive core of our prosperity. Does this mean Alabama’s illegal immigration problem should then be ignored? Certainly not. But imposing draconian measures to eliminate the illegal presence will not solve Alabama’s unemployment statistic; these workers simply lack the sense of entitlement that Americans now possess so naturally. Until steps are taken to correct the latter, I’m not sure this overarching question can even be approached.
To target illegal immigrants as the crux of Alabama’s ever-increasing unemployment numbers is simply unjust. The Supreme Court has already struck down parts of HB56, and with its harmful repercussions becoming increasingly manifest, the rest can’t be far off.
Elaina Plott is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.