An Invitation to Help Us Forge a New Consensus

June 06, 2012

by Paul Bridges, Mayor, Uvalda, Georgia

As a Republican and mayor of a small Georgia town, I’m not your usual immigrant rights advocate. But these aren’t usual times. Our nation’s dysfunctional immigration system undermines our businesses, puts unfair pressure on law enforcement, and goes against our nation’s values.

It’s hard to find hope in today’s bleak immigration policy landscape. States including my own have passed harsh enforcement laws while leaders in Washington refuse to get past their partisanship to make real reform happen.  Our nominee, Mitt Romney, wants to make life so unbearable for undocumented immigrants that they choose to “self-deport,” while ignoring that many are members of intact, functional and loving families.  President Obama separates untold numbers of families through the highest level of deportations in American history; swelling the number of US children who will be reared without one or both parents.

Several states here in the Southeast have passed these harsh enforcement-only laws, and I’ve seen firsthand the effects they have on communities and businesses. Last year in Georgia, families fled their homes in fear and millions of dollars in crops rotted in the fields. Immigrants are important parts of our communities and our economy.  These states are spending millions of tax-payer dollars defending new laws that target minorities but have already had federal judges strike them down.

In neighboring Alabama, Governor Bentley signed HB56 last year to turn state police into ICE agents. Last month, he topped himself by tweaking HB56 to require the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to publish a list of undocumented immigrants who appear in court for violations of state law, regardless of whether they were convicted.

I found Georgia’s harsh law so un-American that I joined with unlikely bedfellows to sue the state. Did I ever dream that I would be joining a class action suit with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center? No, but I also didn’t dream my state would go down the awful path of creating felons out of grandparents who have an undocumented in-law or step-grand in their home or automobile.   

My involvement in the lawsuit led me to the National Immigration Forum and their work advocating for common-sense solutions. I spoke at the Mountain West Summit in Salt Lake City late last year. Faith, business, and law enforcement leaders came together in this fractured environment to find common ground and make renewed calls for federal action.

Building on the success of the Mountain West Summit, I’m joining with other regional leaders to host the Southeast Summit in Atlanta on June 11. Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will deliver the keynote address and we’ll also hear from North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten and Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

These efforts are part of the Forum’s project Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants and America, an effort to engage leaders from faith, business, and law enforcement communities in immigration reform advocacy. I’m excited to launch the project’s new blog with this post. Consensus between conservatives, moderates and liberals has never been more important. I invite you to join me in this work and follow our progress here.

We can go beyond the divisive rhetoric that we’ve been hearing.  I’m confident that we can build a new consensus around practical solutions while valuing immigrants and building a stronger, safer, and more prosperous nation.

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