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Immigation laws in the south: a new Jim Crow | Paul Harris

Lawmakers in southern states enacting harsh measures against illegal workers are exempting domestics – a stunning hypocrisy

Anyone who follows politics long enough develops a certain immunity towards cynicism. It becomes hard to be shocked or disappointed by the too often self-serving and hypocritical actions of our elected officials.

So, it was almost refreshing while covering harsh new immigration laws in the deep south of the United States to discover that architects of an especially tough new law in Alabama had put in a provision that would exempt “casual domestic labour”.

I was actually stunned. For the first time in ages. Basically, the good folks in Alabama behind the law were saying that, while companies and factories and farmers and restaurant owners should not dare to employ illegal immigrants (who, according to them, are a threat to the US economy), it was still fine to employ them to wash, cook, clean or look after the kids.

That this was taking place in a state where, during segregation, wealthy white people used to regularly employ black maids as household help, just added insult to injury. It truly exposed some of the real social and political motivations behind the illegal immigration debate, especially in the south. As Isabel Rubio, of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, said to me: “It’s Alabama. It means you can still have your Latina household help.”

Defenders of the exemption say it was put in because they did not want to trouble homeowners with having to use the E-Verify system to check someone’s immigration status every time they hired casual labour. They say the law would still likely apply to people using long-term, or live-in, domestic employees who are illegal. That cuts no ice with me.

To my mind, it was simple self-serving hypocrisy. If you don’t want brown-skinned illegal immigrants working in Alabama factories and picking Alabama farm crops, then why is it OK for them to – even casually, on a one-off basis – to mow your lawn or wash your clothes or cook your dinner. It was proof that – for a certain sector of the Alabama elite – not so much had changed since the darkest days of Jim Crow. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds