Wednesday, December 18, 2013

unintended consequences

There are strong undercurrents of xenophobia and nativism in American politics. It spiked in the anti-Catholic "know nothings" in the middle of the 19th century, a little later with Asian exclusion laws, and in the early 20th century when a revived Ku Klux Klan opposed civil rights for immigrants as well as blacks.

The anti-immigrant fever led Alabama two years ago to enacted draconian limits on foreigners. As Benjy Sarlin of MSNBC reports,
The lead sponsor of the bill boasted to state representatives that the law “attacks every aspect of an illegal alien’s life.” Among its key provisions: landlords were banned from renting homes to undocumented immigrants, schools had to check students’ legal status, and police were required to arrest suspected immigration violators. Even giving unauthorized immigrants a ride became a crime.
After a sudden flurry of self-deportation, problems arose when foreign businessmen who brought jobs to Alabama were being stopped and even jailed until their status could be verified; sheriffs found their jails filled with people awaiting documentation and their officers diverted from serious crime-fighting by the paperwork requirements of the law. There were also some adverse court rulings.

As  a result of these unintended consequences, Alabama has backed off strenuous enforcement of the law, and even some former advocates feel better about it. Good.

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