» NY Times: After Ruling, Hispanics Flee an Alabama Town
» Wash. Post: A tough new Alabama law targets illegal immigrants and sends families fleeing
Two similar stories on the heels of the Alabama immigration law being upheld, both worth a read. For those in need of some quick stats to go along with the read, The Post primarily covers Foley (located between Mobile & Pensacola on the gulf) while the NYT sticks to Albertville (inland, between Gadsden and Huntsville). Foley is about 9% Hispanic (out of a population >14k) while Albertville is 28% Hispanic (out of >21k total).
In both cases, the situation strikes me as somewhat parallel to a lot of other small town explosions in Hispanic population. In the early phase of this migration pattern, this type of growth used to be something of a “Des Moines phenomenon” … places (like Des Moines) that weren’t accustomed to seeing a natural pocket of Hispanic population in decades past suddenly getting an influx of them. Now the phenomenon is geographically broader than a few isolated examples. Closer to home in Texas, Smith & Gregg Counties (Tyler & Longview) are about 17-18% Hispanic. East Texas counties such as Shelby (16%) and Rusk (14%), just to throw two more random examples into the mix are seeing the same thing. And when you compare the CVAP population to the ACS’s VAP, the ratios are particularly low. So it’s not for nothing that the local rednecks – and I have kinfolk from Shelby County, so I can call them that – in various state legislatures are raising their alarm over illegal immigration in recent years.
I, or anyone else in the world, can argue to the high heavens about whether their animus ought to be with the employers in their area who are luring the workers in and hiring undocumented workers. Whether an old and aging small town wishes to have a thriving business or just another abandoned building or nursing home may be more fodder for absolutely wonderful conversation. But the folks in areas such as these are definitely seeing something new for the very first time and laws such as the ones in Alabama and Arizona are the end result of it.
From at least one angle of the bigger picture of all of this, I’m curious to see what the impact of laws such as this have on re-shuffling Hispanic population on a broader scale. If nothing else, it’s a point to chalk up as another reason to think that the type of demographic change we saw in the last decade won’t necessarily be matched in the current decade. Birth and death rates still nudge some gravity toward increased Hispanic population shares. But the impact of laws such as Alabama’s and the overall slowdown in international migration don’t seem ready to amplify that shift as it did during the last decade.
One final parallel that might be worth making from the Post’s version of the tale:
William Lawrence, the principal of Foley Elementary School, said frightened immigrant families withdrew 25 students last week, even though all the children were U.S. citizens. He said the Hispanic community was swept by rumors that parents would be arrested when they came to collect their children. Many families asked teachers and others to act as their children’s emergency drivers or legal guardians.
“We are doing all we can to reassure parents that their kids are safe, and things have calmed down some, but this was extremely wrong,” Lawrence said. “I hope our lawmakers did not do it deliberately. They won, because now people are leaving. But there is no reason to create such terrible fear of parents being separated from their children.”
Compare that to Ben Smith’s observation from a recent panel discussion:
I participated in a panel on the topic of the Hispanic vote at Advertising Week in New York yesterday, and was struck by two items in the remarks by the pollsters and Latino politics on the panel: That immigration isn’t the top issue for Hispanic voters (“I don’t care about immigration,” Univision executive Chiqui Cartagena announced), and that Hispanic voters are intensely sensitive to rhetoric — more, in the view of some, than policy — that comes off as bigoted or as playing to bigots.
As a general rule, it strikes me as unwise to reduce the matter to thinking that Hispanics tilt in favor of (or at least more neutrally toward) illegal immigration. My own experience instructs me that views toward immigration are far more complex among the audience sample that’s in my network. But that complexity cuts two ways, as Smith’s point touches on. In other words, just because there may not be a sizable share of Hispanic voters who sympathize with illegal immigrants, they’re still likely to know when a bigot is just being a bigot and not respond sympathetically to that either.
So it’s still a game of chicken that the GOP seems to want to play with Hispanic voters. It may not be quite as cut-and-dried as your garden variety hot button issue. But it’s still a game of chicken. After all, it’s not the undocumented population that can’t vote that they’re scaring off … it’s the legal, been here for a long time, and voting share of the Hispanic population. And that share is still going to grow over time.