Busted in 'Bama

Last Wednesday night, a cop in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, pulled over a rental car that didn’t have the right tag on it. He asked the driver for his license, and the driver instead produced his German identification card. Before Alabama’s new immigration law took effect this fall, the driver would have been ticketed, but under the terms of the new law, the cop arrested the driver and hauled him off to the police station for the crime of lacking proper identification.

In fairly short order, a colleague of the arrestee showed up with the driver’s passport, visa, and German driver’s license. At that point, the driver was released—but the story had just begun.

Turns out the driver was a Mercedes executive in town to visit a Mercedes SUV plant about 20 miles outside Tuscaloosa, which employs roughly 2,800 Alabamians. And his arrest drew the immediate attention of Robert Bentley, the state’s Republican governor, who had signed the immigration bill into law. Bentley called his homeland security director, who in turn called Tuscaloosa’s police chief to find out what the hell was going on.

I think it’s safe to assume that this level of gubernatorial concern is an uncommon occurrence. It’s probably also safe to assume that other noncitizens arrested under this law—parents picking up their kids at school, for instance—don’t elicit the same level of gubernatorial concern.

Increasingly, though, the South is brimming with foreign executives come to inspect their auto plants. Mercedes, Volkswagen, Toyota, Hyundai—all these auto companies and more have built plants in the South to take advantage of access to American markets, the cheap labor, and the region’s resistance to unions, though all these companies are unionized in their home countries. All of which raises a good question for IG Metall, the German auto, steel, and aerospace union that, by virtue of German law, has representatives on the corporate boards of Germany’s automakers. To wit: What the hell are they doing in a racist hellhole like Alabama? Why don’t they do everything they can to move Mercedes’ and Volkswagen’s plants to the unionized North, so they won’t be helping xenophobic and low-wage states like Alabama? Where’s their spirit of solidarity?

I don’t mean to leave the impression that Alabama has anything against Germans per se. Indeed, it was Huntsville, Alabama, where the U.S. government plunked down Werner Von Braun and his presumably de-Nazified colleagues who’d built the V-2 rockets, and put them to work building missiles for the military and for the space program. I suppose the lesson for very old Germans visiting Alabama is that it’s OK to have bombed out London, so long as your papers are in order.