Aided greatly by the establishment media, the Obama administration is trying to resurrect the image of Alabama as both the Heart of Dixie and the heart of darkness, with Jim Crow’s abuses this time being readied against light-brown-skinned immigrants and the freedom-riding preachers who give them succor.
A multiple-front legal fight is under way regarding Alabama’s controversial new law against illegal immigrants—which, among other things, punishes businesses that knowingly hire illegals and asks police to check the legal status of anybody being detained for some other violation. But the law carefully tracks, rather than contradicts, federal statutes, and the only “massive resistance” involved is the Obama administration’s massive resistance to the truth. The president himself led the way into the gutter.
In a November 9 briefing to Hispanic media, Obama blasted “the idea that we have children afraid to go to school, because they feel afraid that their immigration status will lead them to being detained . . . [and also] the notion that if a Catholic priest drives an undocumented worker to the hospital, he could be criminally charged; that people can be stopped in the streets and harassed or checked [for residency status].”
Seven days later, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez, who has opened an investigation of alleged “civil rights” violations without yet identifying specific examples, chimed in about parents keeping their children from school “because they’re concerned they will be pulled over because of what they look like.”
Aside from the existence of real fears—unfounded fears ginned up by the administration itself—every element of the Obama and Perez complaints was false.
First, as in other such laws around the country, the Alabama law in multiple places specifically rules out ethnic profiling and stopping people in the streets for suspected lack of immigration status alone—that is, without legitimate suspicion of non-immigration violations. “A law enforcement officer . . . may not consider race, color, or national origin in the enforcement of this section,” the law says on page 28. And on page 30. And on page 32. And, adding “ethnicity” and “gender” to the list, on page 60. On page 43, it insists that businesses make firing decisions “without regard to the race, ethnicity, or national origin” of a worker and that termination be “consistent with the anti-discrimination laws of this state and of the United States.”
It’s worth noting that several Democratic leaders in the state legislature, white and black alike, voted for the Alabama law, hardly the stance one would expect if racial profiling were involved.
Then there is the absurd notion that priests or pastors might be arrested while providing humanitarian assistance under the part of the law that would make it unlawful to “harbor” an illegal alien. For one thing, the anti-harboring provisions match, almost word for word, an extensive anti-harboring section of federal law (8 U.S. Code 1324) that similarly makes it unlawful to “conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation”—a federal law that never before has been thought to put clergy in the slightest danger. For another thing, the Alabama law contains a host of exceptions for primary and secondary education and for just the sorts of humanitarian actions Obama described—among others, any “emergency medical condition,” “emergency disaster relief,” and “soup kitchens, crisis counseling and intervention, and short-term shelter.”
To add to the protections for those in the ministry, Alabama’s constitution contains a “Religious Freedom Amendment” more extensive than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, namely “to guarantee that the freedom of religion is not burdened by state and local law; and to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious freedom is burdened by government.”
Finally, when Obama was using the Hispanic media to spread alarm, a federal judge had already enjoined the Alabama law’s “harboring” sections on technical grounds, mooting (at least for now) the entire alleged danger.
“I’ve made it clear in every public statement that there is nothing in this law that would prohibit anyone from being a good Samaritan,” said Luther Strange, Alabama’s mild-mannered, moderate-conservative attorney general cast by the New York Times in the role of the viciously segregationist former governor George Wallace, with all of Wallace’s “defiant history of intolerance and minority oppression.” The characterization fits Strange about as well as a tuxedo would fit a porpoise.
As for the profiling charge, Strange calls it “just ridiculous. . . . [Perez’s lawyers] came down here to set up a hotline, had press conferences, etc., all of which is not to eliminate fear but to foster fear.”
Strange is in conflict with Perez over a letter Perez sent directly to Alabama school superintendents—abandoning protocol by bypassing state legal officials—demanding collection of nine comprehensive sets of enrollment data by “race” and “national origin.”
Strange objected, arguing that the Justice Department has no authority to compel local school officials to provide such information, a task school officials have independently been quoted describing as “extremely labor-intensive.” He asked Perez to explain what specific authority allowed him to demand such information; Perez in effect then gave Strange the back of his hand, listing a number of antidiscrimination laws that Justice “has express authority to investigate and enforce” but without providing a single citation describing a power to commandeer local officials to enforce them.
In reply, Strange told Perez that he interpreted the latter’s letter as “confirm[ing] that your Office asserts no legal authority to compel production of the information.” He also asked Perez to share any supposed civil rights complaints received by Justice regarding the immigration law, in hopes of beginning “a joint endeavor” to root out any abuses. To date, Perez has declined to share such information—if indeed it exists.
“What I see come out of Washing-ton really smacks of politics more than anything else,” Strange told me. “One of the things I think is most frustrating to me is they want to ignore 50 years of fabulous progress in this state.”
There is precedent for Strange’s belief that he can win a confrontation with the Department of Justice. In 2001, Alabama’s then-attorney general Bill Pryor fought back against Justice’s attempts to undermine an Alabama law requiring that felons submit to DNA testing when applying for restoration of various privileges including the right to vote. Pryor, now a judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, won that battle. Likewise, the Obama Justice Department has fared poorly so far in its own federal court battles over state immigration laws—including with several of Pryor’s 11th Circuit colleagues in early rulings on Justice’s suit against Alabama.
As the Washington Post noted in a November 17 story on the controversy, “legal experts say the level of federal intervention over the immigration laws is extraordinary.” And, one might add, extraordinarily demagogic.
Quin Hillyer is a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom and a senior editor at the American Spectator.