Liberty is much like a young bride. Her appeal is innocence, youth, and boundless hope. But over time, if not protected, she will lose her luster. Under the guise of practicality, charity, pragmatism, the layers of protection around her are peeled off until she loses that which made her desirable originally. Once unprotected, she is vulnerable to assault from those who would harm her, or use her as a weapon. And once exposed to authority of those who have no love for her, regaining her modesty, security, and unadulterated purity is nearly impossible.
This month, in my home state of Alabama, I witnessed a layer of my beloved liberty’s protection be peeled away forcefully, against the will of many of the people of my state, and beyond the understanding of the rest. I don’t mean that insultingly, though you may take it that way if you wish. I simply mean that when the law, which I will explain, is held up to the light of history, it becomes far uglier, frightening, and obviously a slap in the face of liberty.
The law, under the well-meaning (perhaps) guise of immigration reform and enforcement calls on police to check the immigration status not only of those suspected of a crime, but also of anyone questioned by police, for any reason. So, police are given the power, previously not possessed, to demand proof of citizenship from any person in the State of Alabama. You, me, anybody.
Secondly, it uses the intimidation of the public school system (whether intentional or not) to check on a state level the residency/citizenship of every public school child and their parents. These statistics are reported to the state annually, as numbers—not names. Yet. There is nothing in this law that removes the right of every child living within a school district to receive a public education, regardless of their status, or the status of their parents. However, the act of collecting this data in itself is certainly intimidating to someone without documentation. And it is a very small step to using our schools and school administration as law enforcement/reporting of names to police.
There are many other details to the law, including making it illegal to rent a property to a non-legal resident, give a non-legal resident a ride in your private vehicle (this one was struck down by the courts) and many other laws that affect private business, housing, employment, and education. It is the most far-reaching of such laws enacted in any state in the nation.
When we look back to the great failings of our world society, such as slavery, the Holocaust, ethnic cleansings around the world, and all other losses of liberty by almost any people-group, there is a consistent theme. Two things are cited, almost to the exclusion of all others, as the justification for actions taken. Safety and money. Whenever a leader presents a case for the removal of liberty, the first one they always mention is safety. “We must do this for our security!” they say. “We must keep our children safe from the influence/invasion/violence/etc of _____.” Fill in the blank with “Jews”, “Africans”, “other people who don’t look or think like us”.
Then the money talk begins. Hitler used speech against the Jews that we would NEVER hear in the US about Mexicans. He claimed that Jews were harming the German economy, and that they were taking jobs and money rightfully belonging to the Germans. Now, we have never heard such inflammatory, baseless arguments against our southern neighbors, have we?
Now, to address the first argument, safety, let me acknowledge here that there is a legitimate crime argument to be made at the Border States. Texas, Arizona, and California have all experiences measurable, real increases in violent crime (primarily related to drugs and gun-running) as a result of inadequate security at the border with Mexico. However, such a statistic has never been established with any verifiable data in any non-border state. For the most part, based on all of the evidence available, immigrants regardless of their legal status commit crimes at a LOWER rate than native-born citizens. As a matter of fact, as the percentage of undocumented population rises in the US, crime continues to fall. Immigrants of all legal statuses are 5 times LESS LIKELY to be in prison than native-born citizens.
This presents a real problem to those who would tell you that we must demand “papers” on every person in Alabama in order to “protect the public”. Their argument is simply that in order to protect us from the dangerous non-citizens, we must all give up our civil rights. We can no longer travel with the right to not identify ourselves to law enforcement whenever they demand it. We can no longer enroll our children in school without providing not only THEIR documents proving citizenship, but OUR OWN. We must also yield any right to privacy we have between ourselves and our employer, and between the employer and the State. At every turn, we must be documented, recorded, and verified. Another layer of liberty stripped for the cause of safety and security.
So, if they’re not coming across the border to rape, murder, and rob us, they must be coming to take our jobs! Which leads us to the money argument. Illegal immigrants make us all poorer. This is the argument that would probably make me laugh if it didn’t make me so fire-breathing mad. Here to take our jobs? I will start by saying that I have never been fired from a job because an employer wanted to replace my smooth, lulling Southern accent and advanced University degree with that of an undocumented immigrant. Never. But let’s just say, for argument sake, that it happens all the time. Let’s say that those workers come in and take my highly-specialized technical job and begin doing it for less money than I would. And the employer pays payroll taxes on their income, and so do they. Because they have to. Well, then they decide to submit an income tax refund at the end of the year, like we all do. But, this is where the “they are taking our money” argument begins to crack. Non-citizens don’t get tax refunds. They do something NONE of us do. They pay their full tax burden and get no deductions, refunds, or adjustments. No tax credits for those solar panels they installed or the electric vehicles we all know Mexicans love to drive. They get nothing back, and pay the full burden, where we would recover at least a portion of the tax.
But, lets face it, that doesn’t really happen that often. Most of the jobs we are talking about are not highly technical. There are many educated workers from other countries who come here legally and “over-stay” their welcome, or who come over and gain an education here and are therefore qualified for jobs that require technical expertise. However, for every highly educated worker, there are many, many times as many workers who do manual or skilled manual labor. These workers often are paid in cash, receive no insurance benefits, time off, or sick pay. They are paid wages that far exceed what they would be paid in their country of origin, but that are low compared to what a US worker would demand for the same job. As a matter of fact, in Alabama, crops are currently going un-harvested. Workers who have been dependable for years in our state have packed up and left. Farmers have been left with few options. Even with record unemployment, they are finding these workers difficult to replace. When they are replaced, if the crops are not ruined, they may have to pay higher wage prices. Wage prices, obviously, are directly tied to the price of goods, making our food prices higher, and the already struggling farmers, poorer. See: http://www2.wkrg.com/news/2011/sep/30/immigration-law-hurting-alabama-farmers-ar-2490782/
Now, what happens when we pay someone cash who is not paying taxes? Well, they cannot legally use most of the services we traditionally associate with taxation, such as social programs. Undocumented people cannot get food stamps, Medicaid, SCHIP, or most other “free” government programs. Some of the money they earn is sent to family abroad. Often, workers are supporting not only themselves, but the families they left behind. However, the bulk of wages received by undocumented workers is spent right here in our state. They pay rent to property owners, they purchase groceries, clothing, school supplies. They pay for entertainment, electronics, and household goods. All of this money, as well as the impact of their labor, boosts local economy. The commonly accepted rules of market economics would suggest (or pretty much just say) that adding workers/labor/consumption to a system is a net positive. When you add workers that are contributing more than they are consuming (undocumented workers cannot consume tax-payer services on average, except for education in some situations) but contribute the vast majority of what they earn to the market, the net influence on the market would be expansion, greater cash-flow, and an overall favorable increase in productivity.
There are many other arguments, both valid and some that are just silly, that could be discussed in detail. The economics of undocumented workers is badly misrepresented in our State and our Nation. But, primarily, I want to point out what needs to be shouted from the rooftops all over our state. Our liberty is fragile. It is attacked from all sides at all times. We must not allow those who offer to protect us from other people in the name of safety/security or money/economics to chip away at our personal freedoms out of fear, anger, or misinformation. There is something more worthy to be fought for than the perception of security. Bigger than the promise of easy economic recovery. Vastly more important than huge fences and constant monitoring of the details of your and my life. It’s liberty. She’s vulnerable. She’s being stripped, gradually, by those who present themselves as our protectors. She’s misrepresented, villain-ized, mocked, by those who would diminish her in order to control us more. And we’re letting them do it by not standing up against every infraction of our freedom.
What then is our response? How do we behave with the knowledge that our liberty is being chipped away? Just because it’s primarily aimed at people who are in a different circumstance than you, don’t be fooled into thinking these very laws cannot be tweaked to be used against you. Don’t be complacent in believing that you have nothing to worry about when your original Constitutional protections are whittled away to “protect you”.
I end this post, which was not as eloquent as I would have wished, nor as powerful as the subject deserves, with a quote by Niemöller on January 6, 1946, to the representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt. He was commenting on the mistake he made in not protesting the gradual stripping of the liberties and rights of the people of Germany. He altered it over time, and said it in several different arrangements depending on his audience, but the message remained the same:
In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me -
and by that time no one was left to speak up.