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Alabama’s “papers, please” immigration law is the epitome of a self-inflicted wound, bringing severe pain to the state’s agriculture industry and driving away potential tourism dollars. Yet perhaps the most incalculable damage of the Alabama law has been to the state’s reputation. Unfortunately, the state that grew to symbolize racism and intolerance in the 1950s and 1960s is earning that reputation again today. But key backers of the Alabama law are in denial.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) told the Associated Press:
Why are we getting all the publicity? I think it has to do with Alabama’s past and the perception that people have of Alabama over the years that don’t live in our state and really don’t recognize the amount of progress we’ve made in Alabama over the last 50 to 60 years.
Bentley’s tone-deaf comments come after last week’s remarks, when he noted that “It’s going to take us a long time to outlive those stereotypes that are out there among people that Alabama is living in the ’50s and ’60s,” after which he highlighted that Alabama is now a diverse state that has recruited many foreign industries, such as Mercedes Benz.
As the Associated Press notes:
In 1993, a few months after state officials quit flying the secessionist Confederate Civil War battle flag on the Capitol dome, Mercedes selected Alabama for an assembly plant. Then came Honda, Toyota and Hyundai, and many auto suppliers. The CEO of the state pension system, David Bronner, helped recruit those plants and now fears Alabama has hurt its ability to recruit. ‘You are giving the image, whether it’s valid or not, that you don’t like foreigners, period,’ he said, adding that state leaders frequently seize on bad publicity to knock other states out of competition for new jobs.
As Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, explained, Bentley just doesn’t get it:
The Governor seems completely oblivious to the fact that only when Alabama rejected intolerance and racial division in the past did its image improve on the national and world stage sufficiently for the state to attract international companies. The new immigration law is a fatal blow to that progress, and the only way to save the state’s reputation is to repeal it.
International audiences are already taking note, as foreign outlets such as BBC News, The Guardian, and Agence France-Presse have covered the implementation of Alabama’s extreme anti-immigration law in detail. As happened with Arizona, international companies will undoubtedly scrutinize the new message Alabama is sending when deciding where to locate their businesses. And it doesn’t help that the immigration law’s original sponsors are fueling the fire with recent revelations of racially-charged language and motivations.
The legislation’s original sponsor, Republican State Senator Scott Beason, stated to the Associated Press: “There are people who try to make racism a cottage industry and profit off it, but I would put the harmony in Alabama up against any place in the country.” Yet this is coming from the same man who called on the state to “empty the clip” on immigration and, as the Associated Press notes, “referred to customers of a dog track in a predominantly black county as ‘aborigines.’” Another law sponsor, Republican State Representative Micky Hammon, said of Hispanic immigrants to the state, “They were coming in here like thieves in the night and taking our jobs and tax revenue.”
In enacting legislation targeting Hispanics for expulsion from the state and intimidating families into keeping their children out of school, the ghosts of Alabama past have been brought back to life. No international business wants its brand sullied by such rank intolerance and state-sponsored discrimination. Yet the law’s backers want to blame the press rather than own up to their misdeed. Unfortunately for Alabama, they are reaping what they sowed.