Seeking asylum in Alabama

Gonzo Meets the Press #27 October 5, 2011

A particularly nasty immigration bill in the southern American state of Alabama
has pregnant women afraid to go to hospital and parents afraid to send their
children to school. It reminds Tom Krause of Australia past – and present.

Alabama is one of those southern American states with a rich history of racism. A bit like Australia I have to admit.
We had our White Australia policy in our first Commonwealth Parliament in 1901, while
Alabama had Negro slaves in the 1830s and 40s, with a trading centre in the city
of Montgomery before the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation of
1863. And, of course, in the 1960s, America had its Freedom Riders on buses
blocked by Alabama police, producing violence that led to the scrapping of
segregated facilities. Encouraged by their US counterparts, Freedom Riders led
by Charles Perkins went on a bus into outback New South Wales, which also led to
violence and an eventual lifting of bans on Aborigines using cinemas, hotels and
a pool in several towns.
And in the most striking comparison of all, in 1901, Alfred Deakin, described by Manning Clark as a “good bourgeois liberal,”
introduced into the House of Representatives the Immigration Restriction Bill,
saying the national manhood, the national character and the national future were
at stake. We all know how asylum seekers are treated in Australia today. In
Alabama at the weekend, a Federal District Judge upheld the state’s immigration
law, reducing the rights of immigrants without papers.
As the New York Times put it in an editorial this week: “Only about 3.5 per cent of
Alabama’s population is foreign-born … Undocumented immigrants made up roughly
4.2 per cent of its work force in 2010 … But the drafters of Alabama’s harsh
immigration law wanted to turn their state into the country’s most hostile
territory for illegal immigrants. They are succeeding, as many of Alabama’s most
vulnerable residents can attest.” Here’s a link to the editorial:
Hispanic parents are afraid to send their children to school since officials are now required to
check the immigration status of newly enrolled students and their parents.
Immigrants without papers are now, according to the Times, “unable to
enter contracts, find jobs, rent homes or access government services. In other
words, to be isolated, unemployable, poor, defenceless and uneducated.” Sound
familiar to those in detention on Christmas Island or Villawood?
Mia, the owner of an Hispanic marketing company in suburban Philadelphia, has been
helping migrant workers in the area for many years. This is what she had to say:
“It really scares me to think that the nation I grew up in is dying. I am
looking for a way out of this mess. How do we get people to come to their
senses? How can we convert anger to hope? How do we change aggression into
acceptance? How do we move from cruelty to compassion? How do we get back to the
America based on the teachings of love and peace all religions speak of?”
I suggest changing one word in the last sentence from America to Australia, and
see if you can get answers to any of those questions. I can’t.
On a lighter note, in the award category of politicians repeating the same phrase too often
in one interview, I have to nominate Finance Minister, Senator Penny Wong, our
guest on Meet the Press last Sunday (Here’s a link to the transcript:  My thanks to economist Saul Eslake on this one as he was our second guest and counted the
number of times Senator Wong used the phrase: “put in place.” It was five. (Saul
claims it’s a “disease” she’s picked up from Wayne Swan who “puts things into
place” all the time!) Now, I am a fan of Penny Wong, but I feel it’s necessary
to point this out, as someone else might make fun of this idiosyncrasy. Senator,
please do not use “put in place” more than once or twice in subsequent
interviews or speeches. In some cases, you can get rid of it altogether; eg, “a
reform put in place by Labor government,” can simply be “a Labor government
reform.” And I know it’s more difficult in an interview than in a written
speech, so in this case you are forgiven, especially since you were kind enough
to come into our Adelaide studios on a Sunday morning to appear on our
And finally, congratulations to The Bolt Report for having
its first Federal Labor minister as a guest on its 22nd edition last Sunday.
Here’s a link to video of the show: The
Infrastructure Minister and Government Leader in the House, Anthony Albanese,
also deserves a pat on the back for going on the program. When Andrew Bolt asked
Mr  Albanese why he came on, he said: “I think we have to engage with our
critics directly.” I agree, and I’m hoping it might prompt the Opposition
Leader, Tony Abbott, to come on Meet the Press. We have asked him to be
our guest since the beginning of the year, and 34 episodes later, Tony Abbott
has been a no-show on our show.
Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views are his own; always have been.

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