Thousands of individual tragedies are playing out in Alabama among two separate groups: undocumented immigrants and those without health insurance.
Laws dealing with both issues will be prominent in the final days of the state legislative session this week.
In the past year, undocumented immigrants have found themselves separated from their citizen children. They have lost their housing because of a state law making their contracts unenforceable. They have lost their ability to seek or obtain jobs.
Religious groups, horrified at the legislative treatment of people they see as fellow children of God, have spent the last year trying to communicate the immigrants’ plight.
A different set of tragedies has overwhelmed a growing class of impoverished Alabamians as they see their ability to obtain health care for themselves and their families diminished. Religious groups have tried to explain to voters and their elected representatives the misery these individuals confront as they go without the preventive care that could improve the quality of their lives and prevent fatal complications.
The theory behind the strategy of the religious groups is that the laws and budgets creating such human misery are taking place in a state dominated by Christians, who every Sunday are reminded that they are to love one another just as Jesus loved them. While financial resources may limit the mercy-driven options of Christians, creating empathy for the victims of tight budgets and punitive laws would seem to be a first step.
If we understand our fellow humans, goes the theory, we will accept them as our neighbors. Our faith will then temper our judgment.
It turns out the religious groups misjudged their audience.
After futile weeks of talking about the certain deaths that will result from state Medicaid cuts, State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson switched tactics. Instead of discussing the plight of the poor, he argued that the rest of us might be inconvenienced by long lines when some of our doctors, deprived of Medicaid revenue, relocate to other states.
Opponents of the state’s law on undocumented immigrants have largely given up discussing the toll on the immigrants and their children. Now they are pointing out that the loss of immigrant farmers may force the rest of us to pay more for our tomatoes.
Empathy clearly has no place in our legislative process. The only question our lawmakers believe we are asking is, “How does it affect me?”