Is this really who we want to be?

Published 3:00am Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When lawmakers last spring passed what has become the most stringent immigration law in the country, I wonder if they envisioned school children in tears, their parents afraid to send them to class?
I understand the reasoning behind this law; there are many who believe that illegal immigrants have become a problem in our state, and that the federal government is not doing enough to curb the problem.
For many people, the answer is simple: Enter legally. But becoming a legal citizen is not the easiest task in this country; it is expensive, especially for people fleeing from areas where there is even more extreme poverty than we can imagine and where violence is prevalent.
Is it any wonder people want to live in America?
The immigration law, most of which was upheld by a federal judge last week, includes this provision: Schools must take note of the number of undocumented students and send those numbers to the state.
Schools must still educate the students, so it’s not exactly clear why the need to keep those numbers — was it simply a scare tactic on the part of lawmakers?
It worked.
In Escambia County and Brewton schools, the immigrant population is scarce, so superintendents said they had not seen any issue with the new law.
But in other communities — such as Foley in Baldwin County — students are leaving in droves. I suppose that is what lawmakers and supporters of the new law wanted — but is it really what is best?
A dear friend of mine used to teach Hispanic children in an inner-city classroom in Cleveland, Ohio. She often told me about how involved the parents were with their children’s education, far more than other parents in the school. Principals and teachers at Alabama schools with high numbers of Hispanic students tell the same stories.
With parents pulling their children out of school out of fear of the new law, many assume that they are leaving the state. Maybe. But some will stay. And their children — a likely majority of which are legal citizens — won’t be educated. What good does that do anyone?
Is this what we want for our state? Is this who we really want to be?
Perhaps it is human nature to be afraid of people who aren’t like us, people who are different.
But it isn’t Christian.

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