In the midst of general anti-immigrant sentiment, several southern states have passed strict anti-illegal immigrant laws that critics say raises the prospect of a new Jim Crow era – the time when segregation was law –across a vast swath of the old Confederacy.
They will ostracise and terrorise a vulnerable Hispanic minority with few legal rights, encouraging them to leave or disappear further into the shadows.
Many Americans wonder why some Latinos have a hard time assimilating. It's no mystery to me. American culture has forced many of them into hiding, into the shadows. They must rely on each other because they are certainly not being welcomed into our communities.
From construction to agriculture, to restaurants to gardening, to childrearing, hotels and home help, illegal immigrants are a major driver of the US economy. They may have no papers, but that does not stop them paying taxes, buying homes and raising children who, if born in the US, are American citizens. It has also – as happened during the civil rights era – put these southern states in direct conflict with the federal government. Last week, the White House moved to suspend many deportations of illegal immigrants without criminal records, putting it at odds with the new, harsher state laws.
Which is why Lugo is speaking out. Though illegal, she is angry at feeling suddenly hated by a society she has contributed to. She has two kids and a hard, low-paying job in a factory that makes US army equipment. When Georgia passed its law she was laid off by a manager fearful of prosecution. Yet, within a month, she was rehired. No one had wanted her work. But suddenly it showed how vulnerable her new life was.
I again reiterate my challenge to those who are opposed to immigration (especially conservatives receiving unemployment checks.) Act on your principles! Accept one of these jobs that immigrants are leaving behind. Let's see how long you last in a 100+ degree field, on a hot roof or in the middle of a clogged highway under construction.
Later, driving around the sleepy town on a day when temperatures topped 100F (38C) and the air felt like treacle, Bridges pointed out where Uvalda's Hispanic population lives. He knows everyone and showed where abandoned houses had been fixed up by a Hispanic family or vacant lots transformed into homes.
The Georgia Agribusiness Council estimates the labour shortage has left so many crops unpicked and rotting that it has cost $1bn. The industry currently has 30% fewer workers than it needs and, contrary to accusations that illegals take American jobs, no one is stepping in.
Nor is it just agriculture. The Georgia restaurant trade is in convulsions as staff flee. Karen Bremer, head of the Georgia Restaurant Association, says a quarter of her members' businesses are struggling with too few staff. "The damage has been done. The bad news has already gone through the communities," she said.
From an economic standpoint, passing such stringent laws has been a dramatic own goal. Recently a violent tornado tore through the Alabama city of Tuscaloosa, wreaking havoc and devastation. But the exodus of Hispanics from Alabama has been so great that building firms say they will struggle to employ enough people for rebuilding. Indeed, Tuscaloosa's Hispanic soccer league saw a third of its teams disbanded in a week.
And Republicans claim they want to help the economy.
Many others have spoken out. Church leaders have joined forces with lawyers and business groups and police officials. Suits have been filed attempting to get the law overturned. The federal government has weighed in via the courts, as it did in Arizona when that state attempted a similar act. In general, like many illegals themselves, most opponents want a "path to citizenship" or a work scheme for people already here.
Among them are people like Bridges, who is far from a typical liberal campaigner. He is a proud southerner and Republican who has little time for President Obama. But he joined a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union; a conservative bête noire. "I dislike the ACLU but I find myself on the same side. It is shocking to me," he joked.
At least some on the right have some common sense!
This article does such an excellent job of pointing out all the practical arguments for immigration. Please take the time to read it and share it with those who argue immigration is hurting this country's economy! There's also an interesting timeline below the article that shows the history of Latino immigration to the US.