By David Leopold and Eleanor Pelta
Remember Kindergarten? For us it was long time ago, but we both still have vivid memories of our teachers, some of the other kids of the class, and, of course, the playground. It can be frightening for young children to start school and learn to separate from the security of home.
Luckily for us we attended kindergarten Michigan and Pennsylvania in the 1960’s, not in Alabama in 2011. Today, crayons and nap time are the least of a 5 year child’s worries in the Heart of Dixie. Come this fall the children in Alabama better be ready to prove they are “legal” before they can even hope to qualify for play time. Ever vigilant in performing their sacred duty to protect the good citizens of the Yellowhammer State, the Alabama Legislature and Governor Robert Bentley have conspired to enact an immigration law so nasty and mean spirited that it has been described as “Arizona SB1070 on steroids.” The new law incorporates most of Arizona SB1070’s ugliest provisions, including racial profiling, overbroad harboring provisions, and, that old favorite, the criminalization of undocumented workers. But it goes a few steps further. In their zeal to dehumanize undocumented immigrants, the cynical politicians of Montgomery have actually set their sights on, of all things, children.
And how exactly does the Alabama law go after kids?
Instead of the relatively tame learning activities that we grew up with, like sharing with others and playing in the sandbox, the Alabama law requires, upon registration for school, that school officials determine whether a child was born in or outside the United States or, even if the child is a US citizen, whether he or she has a parent who is an undocumented immigrant.
Alabama is home to many military families so it’s not hard to imagine a child who was born outside the US registering for school. Nor is it difficult to imagine an Alabama child who has one US citizen parent (perhaps even a military parent) and one undocumented parent.
Once the school learns that the child or one of his or her parents is or may be undocumented, officials must report the information to law enforcement. If they don’t, officials risk being charged with obstruction of justice. And even if the official is not charged with a crime the Alabama law includes a provision which allows private citizens to sue “any official or heard of agency” if the citizen believes they are not reporting alleged undocumented immigrants. In this way, Alabama politicians were careful to make room for racial profiling by private citizens.
In the competition for the most gratuitously vicious law aimed at immigrants, Alabama’s is the clear winner thus far. It surpasses Arizona’s in many ways, not only in its venomous provisions aimed at the most innocent citizens of the state–children–but in its successful creation of a Gestapo-like environment which not only encourages, but mandates that citizens spy and report on their neighbors.
Congratulations, Alabama. You get the prize.
Of course, Alabama’s offensive and extreme law echoes a much earlier period of infamy for that state, a period also marked by extremism. Let’s not forget the Bloody Sunday confrontation on March 7, 1965, when 600 civil rights marchers were met in Birmingham by a wall of Alabama state troopers who used tear gas and clubs to beat them back. Alabama’s violent reaction to the protesters prompted the songwriter and comedian Tom Lehrer to write these words in his satirical song about nuclear proliferation, “Who’s Next?”:
We’ll try to stay serene and calm
When Alabama gets the bomb
One has to wonder how much has really changed in Alabama from the days when state-sponsored violence constituted its reaction to the nascent Civil Rights movement, to today, when unconcealed hatred informs its laws and policies regarding immigration. And, unfortunately, one also has to wonder “Who’s Next?”
As for now, kindergartners in Alabama better be ready to show their papers before they even think about nap time.