Putting it in Perspective: To What Were We Blind?

Posted by Ilanit Sisso on Fri, Nov 18, 2011 at 15:58 pm

This year during Yom Kippur services the phrase that resonated with me the most was when the Rabbi asked: “To what were we blind to this year?” I reflected on this question for weeks. Was I “blind” to a friend when they needed my help? Was I “blind” to a family member trying to reach out to me? Was I “blind” to a stranger who was treated unfairly?


Many of us (including myself) have been “blind” to injustices happening right in our backyard. One of these recent injustices is Alabama’s new immigration law.


Alabama House Bill 56 has been labeled by many as the most restrictive immigration law in the country. It calls for, among other things, checking the immigration status of students and parents, allowing law enforcement officials to detain (without bail) those suspected of being in the country without proper documentation, and forbidding undocumented immigrants from entering into a transaction with businesses or the state. Some towns have already requested that their residents submit proof of legal status to get basic utilities, such as water.


This law stands in direct opposition to the United States’ strong commitments to integration and education and is a poor use of resources in a struggling economy. The law also poses constitutional and other questions that will need to be answered by the courts. Specifically, the judiciary will have to determine whether enacting a bill such as this one is within a state’s authority or whether it should be left up to the federal government. Other basic questions include how law enforcement officials will determine who is suspected of being an “illegal alien” and who is not. Alabama’s new law essentially requires the police to detain people because they look a certain way, because they “appear” illegal.


Alabama’s law also undermines the U.S.’s inclusive public education system. After the law was passed in October, over 2,000 students did not show up for classes. Sam Brooke, a staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, said that "when a law that demonizes people to the point of pushing children out of schools is cheered, it's a dark day for the state and the country." Even though the United States Supreme Court held in Plyler v. Doe that children have a constitutional right to free public education, many families remain fearful of the consequences of this new bill and have pulled their children out of school.


The unintended consequences of Alabama’s new law and its irreparable damage should also be noted - it will undoubtedly foster a hostile environment in the state. A report published by ThinkProgress found that the new law will likely lead to an “increase in exploitation of workers, erosion of fundamental legal protections, and denial of access to state and local government services and activities.” Students who “look Hispanic” will likely be bullied and singled out. Some neighbors will try to disassociate themselves from those who “look Hispanic.” Also, by deterring many from receiving an education, the law will likely diminish these young people’s ability to contribute to our country’s society in the future.


We are all at some point or another blind to things happening around us. However, as Americans, Alabama’s new law is not something that we can afford to ignore.
 

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