New Fronts in the Conservative War on Immigrants

In an apparent homage to the Southern authoritarians of decades past, Republican lawmakers in the Old South are targeting undocumented immigrants (the current disfavored minority) with harsh, draconian legislation:

Proposed legislation in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, where Republicans control the legislatures and the governors’ mansions, have moved further than similar proposals in many other states, where concerns about the legality and financial impact of aggressive immigration legislation have stopped lawmakers.

Dozens of immigration-related bills showed up early in legislative sessions across the South. Some were aimed at keeping illegal immigrants from college or from marrying American citizens. Most died quickly, but three proposals designed to give police broader powers to identify and report illegal immigrants are moving forward. [...]

This, in particular, is reprehensible:

A similar bill is heading through the legislature in South Carolina. It would also make it illegal to transport immigrants anywhere, including a hospital or a church.

In Alabama, legislators are working on similar bills in the House and the Senate, which would also make it a crime to knowingly rent to an illegal immigrant.

Of course, the lawmakers defend these laws as an honest attempt to "deal" with growing immigrant populations. But given their punitive focus -- and the attempt to legislate undocumented immigrants out of their livelihoods -- it's very clear that these are punitive laws, aimed at marginalizing immigrant populations and "other-ing" them to the public at large.

Unfortunately, these laws don't come as a surprise. Recessions are breeding grounds for ethnocentric resentment, as people are driven to an "us versus them" mentality by the perception of economic scarcity. If political elites were willing to reject those attitudes, then you might not see laws like the ones in Arizona, South Carolina, and Alabama. But anti-immigrant rhetoric -- barring outright racism -- is acceptable in contemporary political discourse, and conservative politicians (especially) are well positioned to harness these resentments for political gain. As long as that's true, these laws -- and others like them -- will have traction for a nice slice of the public.

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