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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More Unintended Consequences of U.S. Immigration Law

About three days ago this story hit the news and is rapidly going international.

A visiting German executive from Mercedes-Benz was stopped by the police in Alabama and, as a result of the new immigration laws, was arrested when he failed to produce the correct documentation.  It appears that the governor of the state was informed, the executive's colleagues brought his papers to the police station, and he was promptly released.

To opponents of the law this is a reason to gloat but I personally think that such a reaction is a bit uncharitable.  I sincerely doubt that anyone in Alabama intended for the law to be used to harass executives of a major international employer of people in that state.  To the credit of the police department they did apply the law without regard to race or position. He was, as they say here in France, caught in a "situation irrégulière" - something that could get someone like me arrested if I were caught strolling about as a foreigner without identification in my host country. (For the record this has never happened to me but it is possible.)

Still, it is very embarrassing for the state of Alabama.  Mercedes-Benz is definitely one of those "job creators" that politicians are counting on to improve the economic climate and lower unemployment. I doubt that the gentleman from Germany is going to go home to corporate with happy pleasant stories to tell about his encounter with southern hospitality.  And that is a shame.

Supporters of the new rules have this mantra, "It's the law" which reveals something very fundamental about the American psyche.  Americans believe in law and the rule of flaw and by extension this faith contradicts their words about the efficiency and effectiveness of government.  They may claim that  they don't trust government but their actions and deeply held beliefs say something entirely different.


Neha said...

That the present day US citizens should call anyone as "illegal" is simply unfair. Most present day US citizens are either European immigrants themselves or one of their descendants

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Neha,

Thanks so much for your comment. I would reply that I think Peter Spiro is right and US citizenship is a fragile thing. As much as the conservatives have tried to talk about common roots and ideals, this is a country that has always had a multitude of religions, ethnicities, langues and very different ideas about what "America" means. Trying to forge a national consensus has been difficult - to those who say that it used to be different and that peace and harmony reigned in some not so distant ideal past I would reply that my German Catholic grandmother cried the day Kennedy was elected. You see, she never believed that a Roman Catholic could ever be elected president - too much anti-Catholic sentiment.

Almost every wave of immigration in the US has been met with some sort of nativist anger - it is the war of "those who came before" against "those who came after." Not terribly logical but there you have it.