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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Blind tribalism — will Arkansas become Alabama?

Posted By on Sun, Jun 17, 2012 at 7:46 AM

  • ALAS, WE HARDLY KNEW YE: Mike Huckabee.
A fine op-ed in the New York Times today by civil rights chronicler Diane McWhirter.

It's about her shame over the "reason-blind tribalism" in her home state of Alabama. Following decades of disgrace in treatment of black people, Alabama now brings itself equal dishonor in treatment of immigrants, particularly Latinos.

It is impossible not to think of Arkansas when reading this. The Republican Party here thinks it's poised to join Alabama's red tide in the November election. With rare exceptions, the Republican spear carriers are prepared to emulate their Alabama brethren down the line on Republican commandments — oppression of women and gays, exaltation of the wealthy and guns and deep animus toward immigration. The handful of reasonable Republicans in the Arkansas legislature dare not depart from script when the roll is called, lest they be punished at an ensuing primary.

If the day of Republican reconstruction-era resurrection comes, it will be a cause to look back with fondness on the days of Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas Republican governor spoke eloquently on the evil of racial segregration. He advocated school consolidation and tax increases to pay for it. He presided over an unprecedented expansion of welfare in the form of medical coverage for children. He held his arms open to scholarship help for immigrant children without established citizenship.

Could Mike Huckabee win a Republican primary in today's Republican Party?

Until now, an unlikely coalition anchored by powerful business forces has held back the tide of punitive immigrant legislation in Arkansas. But a Republican majority would be a sea change. They'd fear backlash on a humane vote. The coalition has been fractured in other ways. The Catholic Church, a reliable friend of the immigrant, has recently put other interests ahead of immigrants. The Arkansas bishop recently cut off support of an immigrant organizing group and banished it from Arkansas churches because of a tangential connection to a group in Colorado that supported same-sex marriage. With Republicans at the door and your friends so easily turned foe (the Catholic Church's recent linkage on sexual politics with evangelicals who have little use for Catholicism generally was particularly striking), Arkansas immigrant advocates have reason for concern.

Read McWhirter and tell me it can't happen here. Tell me that many Arkansans, as in Alabama, won't profess to be Christian as they advocate immigrants' banishment and equate documentation status with criminal behavior? Will we, like Alabama, remain blind?

Indeed, the suffering of Alabama’s Hispanics went mostly unnoticed until December, when Human Rights Watch issued a report describing entrepreneurs shuttering businesses, crime victims opting not to go to the police, parents fearing to seek medical help for children. These were the law’s intended consequences: to attack “every aspect of an illegal alien’s life,” said a co-sponsor, Micky Hammon, “so they will deport themselves.”

Such unabashed malice made me realize that my shame was really a broken heart. The South’s culture of kindness is real and must account for the most poignant theme of the Human Rights Watch report: how many of those repudiated “aliens” professed an attachment to Alabama. “I love here,” said a 19-year-old, in the state since he was 9. Now the cycle of bigotry is renewed, poisoning a new generation of Americans on both sides.

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