Our Politicians in Alabama Are Scapegoating Immigrants, But Workers Shouldn't Be Fooled

Republicans are trying to deflect attention from their own dismal records.

Jacob Morrison

Congressman Mo Brooks speaks at a rally in Trussville, Alabama. Brooks is one of the several Alabama politicians who have turned their backs on immigrants in the state. Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Unions pro­tect work­ers. More accu­rate­ly and specif­i­cal­ly, work­ers who build strong unions pro­tect each oth­er from the ruth­less prof­it seek­ing of cor­po­ra­tions and the cal­lous­ness of politi­cians. And sol­i­dar­i­ty across lines of race, gen­der and immi­gra­tion sta­tus is nec­es­sary for the build­ing of strong unions.

Yet, many politi­cians and pun­dits in Alaba­ma are using this heat­ed elec­tion cycle to foment divi­sion along these lines. This divi­sion must be resist­ed by union mem­bers on both moral and prac­ti­cal grounds, because the labor move­ment will nev­er win by doing the boss’s bid­ding and arti­fi­cial­ly con­strict­ing the bounds of our solidarity.

This dynam­ic takes many forms, but gen­er­al­ly what hap­pens is a dem­a­gogue will point to a real prob­lem that work­ers in Alaba­ma are fac­ing — low wages, pover­ty, unem­ploy­ment, crime — to stir up resent­ment. Instead of point­ing this resent­ment where it belongs — at the boss, politi­cians, or the sys­tem that allows so few to get unimag­in­ably wealthy while wages stag­nate — this resent­ment is point­ed at scape­goats.

Right now in Alaba­ma, few are more tar­get­ed as scape­goats than immi­grants, espe­cial­ly the undocumented.

Immi­grants are a scape­goat so pop­u­lar among Alaba­ma Repub­li­can politi­cians that even the impli­ca­tion that they should receive a fair shake from our gov­ern­ment can land you in hot water for weeks, as it did for Tom­my Tuberville, the cur­rent GOP nom­i­nee for U.S. Sen­ate. Back in Feb­ru­ary, Tuberville made the mis­take of human­iz­ing immi­grants, say­ing that they sim­ply want to come and make a life for them­selves. This took over the dis­course around the cam­paign for weeks and even prompt­ed a Jef­fer­son Coun­ty sher­iff to pen an op-ed oppos­ing Tuberville’s can­di­da­cy in the pri­ma­ry. Tuberville is now full throat­ed in his denun­ci­a­tions of any com­pro­mise on immi­gra­tion though: A full half of his last ad is com­prised of such rhetoric.

Jeff Poor, a Bre­it­bart con­trib­u­tor and host on Mobile’s FMTalk 106.5 radio sta­tion, in April fea­tured for­mer Act­ing ICE Direc­tor Tom Homan mak­ing the case that undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants hurt Alaba­ma work­ers because they work for less because they are eas­i­ly exploitable. (Homan was, of course, not remind­ed that it is through the use of ICE as a dis­ci­pli­nary mea­sure for the boss that undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants are exploitable.)

Amaz­ing­ly, even con­cerns about the dis­as­trous response to the pan­dem­ic are turned on the undoc­u­ment­ed. My rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Mo Brooks, did this in August in his expla­na­tion of a no vote on S.386 — a bill that would’ve allowed more immi­grants in the coun­try legal­ly, lament­ing 40 mil­lion lost jobs. His lamen­ta­tions are hol­low though: The same day he offered them up he decried debt junkies” and vot­ed against a relief bill.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, turn­ing pan­dem­ic anx­i­ety into immi­grant resent­ment is a theme. In one recent col­umn, a host at WVNN (a local radio sta­tion where I also host a show), Dale Jack­son, assert­ed that the solu­tion to small Alaba­ma busi­ness­es not feel­ing com­fort­able” with their cash flow because of the reces­sion is, get this, bet­ter bor­der security.

The mor­bid irony of the reac­tionary posi­tion on immi­gra­tion is that Repub­li­cans are try­ing to deflect atten­tion from their own dis­mal records, which are hurt­ing all poor and work­ing people.

These politi­cians balk at rais­ing the min­i­mum wage — a posi­tion that has been increas­ing­ly imple­ment­ed at the state lev­el and is large­ly respon­si­ble for the low wage growth that Trump is so excit­ed about.

One of the first things Repub­li­cans in this state did once they real­ized the pan­dem­ic would be a long-term issue was strength­en employ­er immu­ni­ty in cas­es where work­ers get sick on the job.

Repub­li­cans in the U.S. Sen­ate have left work­ers out to dry for months after funds from the orig­i­nal relief bill dried up, and they have refused to extend unem­ploy­ment stim­u­lus or pass an evic­tion mora­to­ri­um, or rent or mort­gage for­give­ness, even though up to 48% of Alaba­ma renters are cur­rent­ly at risk of eviction.

After all this inac­tion, Repub­li­cans in the Sen­ate dropped every­thing to pack the Supreme Court with a nom­i­nee who has pub­licly said that the Afford­able Care Act ought to be struck down (and pro­tec­tions for pre-exist­ing con­di­tions with it) and that hurl­ing racial epi­thets does not con­sti­tute a hos­tile work envi­ron­ment, among a myr­i­ad of oth­er anti-work­er, anti-con­sumer, anti-lib­er­ty judi­cial opin­ions. And this nom­i­nee has been added to a Supreme Court that is already pro-cor­po­ra­tion and anti-worker.

When mak­ing the case that they are work­ing-class guardians, Repub­li­cans gen­er­al­ly do not defend this record. Instead, they obfus­cate it with divi­sive rhetoric — a rhetoric that mis­di­rects the legit­i­mate eco­nom­ic anx­i­eties of work­ing Alabami­ans, some of which are the cre­ations of the very same politicians.

We must resist these politi­cians’ dis­trac­tions, though, because we know that the exploitabil­i­ty of migrant work­ers is not an innate com­po­nent of their per­son, but our society’s choice to make them exploitable. We also know that strong unions dri­ve wages and ben­e­fits up. And, of course, hyper exploita­tive labor — the kind that migrant work­ers, espe­cial­ly the undoc­u­ment­ed, are forced to toil under — is worth oppos­ing on those grounds alone. No one should have to suf­fer the indig­ni­ty of know­ing that your boss can snap their fin­gers and have you deport­ed, and no boss should have that much pow­er over their work­ers.

The solu­tion that address­es both of these prob­lems — exploita­tion of immi­grants and low wages and unem­ploy­ment for U.S. born work­ers — is sol­i­dar­i­ty. Immi­grants, includ­ing peo­ple who are undoc­u­ment­ed, are a large part of our work force, and we can’t build work­er pow­er with­out them. And we can’t build work­er pow­er with them with­out stand­ing in sol­i­dar­i­ty when they are attacked.

The path for­ward is clear: We must reject calls to scape­goat vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions for the prob­lems cre­at­ed by the pow­er­ful in our soci­ety. We must reject work­ing-class divi­sion and unite and orga­nize with our fel­low work­ers — doc­u­ment­ed and undoc­u­ment­ed — for high­er wages, bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions, and a soci­ety that makes it eas­i­er for all to exer­cise these fun­da­men­tal rights to organize.

Alaba­ma Repub­li­cans and their media mouth­pieces want you to be mad at your immi­grant neigh­bors so that you aren’t mad at them. Don’t fall for it.

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

Jacob Mor­ri­son is Sec­re­tary-Trea­sur­er of the North Alaba­ma Area Labor Coun­cil which rep­re­sents thou­sands of union work­ers and co-hosts The Val­ley Labor Report, a union talk radio show on Sat­ur­day morn­ings from 9:30 to 11:00am on WVNN, WGOL, and YouTube.

Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue