Tough, New Immigration Law Fuels Ala. Exodus

Cities and towns across Alabama have seen sharp declines in the Latino population since the state's tough new immigration law went into effect at the end of September. Guest host Tony Cox and Birmingham News Metro Columnist John Archibald discuss how the law has affected Alabama and its largest city.

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TONY COX, host: Now, for more on how the Alabama immigration law is impacting the state we turn to John Archibald. He is a Metro columnist for the Birmingham News. John, thanks for coming on.

JOHN ARCHIBALD: My pleasure, Tony.

COX: So, we just heard from the mayor of Albertville. You got to hear him as well. Do his statements on the immigration law align with how the law is being viewed statewide in your opinion?

ARCHIBALD: Well, I think there are various pockets that view things a little bit differently. I think Birmingham for one is kind of a bubble where there are more people who are opposed to the law but it does echo a sentiment that you find in parts of the state where there are large Hispanic populations.

COX: Since the law went into effect what changes are evident already? We know that four people were arrested just over the weekend?

ARCHIBALD: Right, four arrested in North Alabama. There have been a couple down South. It's hard to get really a good count on the total number of arrests and detained and what not. But really the big change is in the fear of arrest. You find people kind of dropping off the grid, taking their kids out of schools, they're planning to not show up for work really on a large scale tomorrow, and people just disappearing.

COX: In a recent column you say that immigration is a complex problem that requires and here's the quote: "Expertise and experience, resources, common sense, and all the right tools." You go on to say, yikes, we turned the task over to the Alabama legislature. Some of the pushback in terms of the people who read your column suggests that there should not be a connection made to the old civil rights days - George Wallace standing in the courthouse, etc., etc. - to this. Was that the point you were trying to make?

ARCHIBALD: Well, clearly those things are quite different. I mean, you cannot compare this immigration law to, you know, Jim Crow and segregation and 300 years of oppression, but some of the rhetoric is the same, some of the intent was the same and certainly some of the backlash is the same.

And here in Birmingham, Alabama, you know, where we consider ourselves the cradle of the civil rights movement, you would like to see things turn out a little differently.

COX: Albertville obviously is a very small community, 21,000, 22,000 people. Birmingham, a very different story, as is Montgomery. Are you finding that the response to the law positively or negatively differs depending on whether you're in an urban environment or if you're in the country on a farm?

ARCHIBALD: Yeah. I think it absolutely does, although let's be clear that a lot of farmers are among those who are most opposed to the law because they're unable to harvest their crops and, you know, they're watching tomatoes die on the vine and peanuts and that sort of thing, and so they are the ones who are really going to be hurt among the worst.

COX: But what about what Mayor Lindsey said with regard - I'm sorry - Mayor Lyons said with regard to that? He said that, in Albertville, at least, that whites were willing to take jobs that Hispanics had had before. What we hear and read very many times of stories coming out of that region is that those jobs go wanting because whites don't want them.

ARCHIBALD: I think, in large part across the state, those jobs are going wanting. I mean, you have some efforts to get people out on a temporary basis to try to pick some crops and those things, but in terms of working in the chicken plants, that sort of thing, that is not going to be a long term solution.

What Albertville has basically decided is that empty store fronts and empty streets are better than having Hispanic people in that community and that, you know, you can talk about the jobs, but that sounds to me like the bottom line.

COX: Are you seeing a difference in the community in terms of those people who live, John, in the area between how African-Americans are responding to this law and its implementation and white Americans?

ARCHIBALD: I actually have. If you look at the protests - there have been quite a number of protests, student protests, Hispanic group protests, other religious sort of protests. And they have largely been Hispanic and white in a lot of the places and I was talking to a black elected official in Birmingham yesterday and he was kind of lamenting the fact that the black community hasn't really stepped up to have a voice in this issue.

You know, talking about, you know, Martin Luther King wrote the letter from the Birmingham Jail here 48 years ago saying, you know, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and he was lamenting why we haven't latched onto that.

COX: He wasn't able to give an answer, was he?

ARCHIBALD: He wasn't. He wasn't able to give a reason. He was just curious as to why that is and I don't have the answer, either.

COX: I suppose the next step will be decided once the courts take an action or don't on the U.S. Justice Department's efforts to have the law set aside for the time being. We'll just have to keep our eyes on that.

John Archibald, a Metro columnist for the Birmingham News, joining us from member station WBHM in Birmingham. John, thank you again very much.

ARCHIBALD: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COX: Coming up, hip-hop's dial has reached beyond music to flavor everything from fashion to marketing.

STEVE STOUTE: The artists, when they promoted brands, nobody ever looked at them and said, oh, you were a sellout. They actually seen these guys doing Sprite ads and said, these guys are getting money. That's what it's all about.

COX: Marketing expert, Steve Stoute, on his new book, "The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture that Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy." That's next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COX: I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, most parents won't admit to playing favorites when it comes to their kids, but is it inevitable? That's just ahead.

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