In north Georgia, cabbage patch babies may be the high-end figment of a dollmaker’s imagination.
But in at least one corner of south Georgia, they are a flesh-and-blood problem that lies near the heart of this state’s illegal immigration dilemma.
On Thursday, the ACLU and several other civil rights organizations filed the long-expected federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s new illegal immigration law. The first object is to block its July 1 effective date.
The lawsuit is salted with individual plaintiffs, an attempt to pack as much human drama as possible into what’s likely to become a very long and very dry courtroom experience.
The list includes illegal immigrants, an older child of a couple with no legal right to live here, a Teamster official who hauls paperless workers in his 12-seat van, and a retired Air Force colonel who does charity work among legal and illegal migrants.
But the only elected official to join the lawsuit was Paul Bridges, the Spanish-speaking, first-term mayor of tiny Uvalda in Montgomery County. He is described in the lawsuit as a Republican, but “swing voter” may be a more apt description.
His farming town has perhaps 600 souls. There is no grocery store, no doctor, no dentist. Bridges regularly ferries workers to nearby Vidalia, the onion capital of the world. The mayor first learned about HB 87, the legislation in question, when he gave a pair of workers a ride to the Mexican consulate in Atlanta.
The primary argument for Bridges’ inclusion in the lawsuit is that he could run afoul of Georgia’s new law, which forbids “knowingly” transporting or harboring illegal immigrants. “Some of them I know are citizens — very young citizens. I’m not sure about their parents. I’m not sure about their grandparents,” Bridges, 59, said during a state Capitol news conference.
(The authors of the legislation say the new law does not apply to Georgians who commit occasional acts of kindness. But this is why we have judges and courthouses.)
Yet Bridges has a more emotional reason for joining the legal action. He talks of Uvalda’s many blended families — migrants who have married legal residents over the years, couples who have produced children.
“For instance, the grandmother who has papers. The daughter doesn’t have papers. The grandson is a citizen,” the mayor said. What happens, he asked, when a supporting husband is sent back to Mexico, leaving a dependent wife and child? Both are likely to end up on welfare.
Late last month, Bridges called for a “summit,” held in the town’s community center, to discuss the situation. Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, was there. So was state Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia. Both men voted for HB 87.
There was general agreement on what has produced mixed families in the area. Seasonal harvests — onions, in particular — once required a short-term labor force that quickly moved on. But over the years, farmers have expanded their winter crop production.
They’ve added turnips, collards, but especially cabbage. Winter crops create the need for a year-round labor force, and vice versa. Year-round living leads to long-term relationships, and relationships create family trees.
Entire cabbage-patch families, if you will.
“Migrants used to travel around, but now that we created this produce market, they’re staying all year,” Williams said during that meeting.
What to do about the situation is where the difference lies. Morris, the House member, said in a telephone interview that he doesn’t want to appear heartless, but chips will have to be allowed to fall where they may.
When a man robs a bank and is caught, Morris said, he puts his family at risk. “You’re splitting up a family. A child is going to be hurt,” he said. The responsibility, Morris said, lies with the illegal resident.
As for farmers, he said, they are used to crackdowns and threats of crackdowns. “The fear of this labor situation is nothing new. They’ve lived on the edge for years,” Morris said — to the point that certain social mores have been established.
“One thing they tell you is, don’t drive a Crown Vic out into the field. You drive one of them Crown Vics with tinted windows — and they’re all hitting the woods. And they’re not coming back,” Morris said.
The lawmaker was surprised to hear that Bridges had joined the federal lawsuit. Uvalda may be something of a Democratic enclave, but Montgomery County is thoroughly Republican and conservative.
“His views aren’t mine, and certainly not the views of the majority of the people in my district,” Morris said.
Bridges, elected in 2009, admits that he’s not sure how local voters will react. When he left for Atlanta, the mayor told very few people of his intentions. But not for the reason you might think.
“When I told the first two, they said you shouldn’t do that, because we’re going to be targeted — that I’m going to draw attention to the ones that don’t have papers, that they’re going to be the first ones to get sent back,” Bridges said. “But I can’t just sit there and wait for them to come get me. I’ve got to move forward.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider