The cruelty of kind people

Alabamians are loving as individuals but can be nasty in groups, a lesson that undocumented immigrants struggle to understand.

The best story I ever wrote ended up in a trash can, all drafts carefully deleted from my computer.

It was the story of a friend. He was a leader in his high school, a talented musician, an honor student. He volunteered at his church and for numerous local groups. He loved America and even Alabama with an innocent passion.

It was the story of how Alabamians embraced his family when they arrived here when he was a child. Teachers and new friends helped him learn English; a church provided furniture to his impoverished family. It was the story of a family that found success in Decatur and continues to repay the community for the warm welcome that made all the difference. They left Mexico because they feared the effect poverty and violence would have on their child, and he has flourished here.

The young man, troubled by actions of the state Legislature, wanted to tell his story. He sensed a flawed stereotype drove the politics of hate. Far from being a drain on the community, he and his family are contributors. So are the other undocumented immigrants he knows. They are Christians who place a high value on education. They are hard workers. The families he knows came to Alabama out of a desperate desire to improve the lives of their children.

It is no wonder the young man thought telling his story would ease the anti-immigrant anger that suffused Alabama. He had been the beneficiary of countless acts of kindness, of Alabamians who defined him not as an illegal alien but as a fellow Christian with tremendous potential. His love of Alabama is rooted in these encounters.

His optimism was unwarranted. I killed the story because I knew the individual compassion of Alabamians twists into cruelty when they are in groups, and I did not want him to become a target. Individually, we love the young man. Collectively, we attack him.

As a group, we in Decatur elected a representative — House Majority Leader Micky Hammon — who promised to pass a law that would make the lives of undocumented immigrants so miserable that they would leave.

Hammon and other state officials congratulated themselves Monday because the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals only found most of their law to be unconstitutional. The surviving provisions would still make undocumented immigrants — and, intended or not, many Hispanic citizens — miserable.

As voters, we blasted a shotgun and a few of the pellets found their targets. State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, wanted to “empty the clip” to rid the state of undocumented immigrants, and we happily supplied him with the ammunition.

The sad irony is that the provisions that survived the 11th Circuit’s review hurt both immigrants and the state.

The young man’s parents benefit their community through their work and church activities, but must violate the law to do so. The law precludes them from obtaining a driver’s license or license tags. Their undocumented-immigrant friends who employ Alabamians must close their businesses, because the law prevents them from obtaining a business license. The young man, despite his academic excellence, could not attend college in Alabama. The law we as voters supported alienates the most promising undocumented immigrants by barring them from attending public colleges or universities.

The stereotypes that motivated voters to support the law — the career criminal or the family that lives on the public dole despite an ability to work — no doubt describe some undocumented immigrants, just as they describe some native Alabamians. The irony is that those who fit the stereotypes are unperturbed by the law. In our collective, flailing cruelty, we have only injured those who share our values and benefit our state.

The young man, my friend, is confused. He cannot understand how the kind people who surround him can be so merciless when acting together. I share his sadness, but can offer no explanation.

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Filed under Alabama politics, immigration

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