Civic talk at its best
If you missed the forum on immigration, you have another chance
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Huntsville Times

The first thing to say about Monday's City Hall forum on immigration is "congratulations" to participants for civilly and rationally discussing a topic that most electronic talk shows and too few legislative bodies can't kick around without bombast, shrieking and demagoguery.

Also, congratulations to the Huntsville Human Relations Commission for having the courage and wisdom to sponsor the event.

Not that the meeting - the first of two scheduled on the topic - turned into a tepid and banal session. Strong points, important points were made. But, Times writer Lee Roop reports, "people made their points and let others make theirs." It was civic discourse at its finest.

And that's particularly gratifying since the subject of immigration is among the thorniest today.

Speakers Monday got beyond the emotionally charged themes like should English be the official language of the United States to more substantive matters, all of which must be addressed if we are to find a way to get a grip on porous borders, illegal workers and a tsunami-force influx of a different culture into our midst.

For example:

State senatorial candidate Parker Griffin, a physician, noted the potential health problems that people who haven't been given routine vaccinations can cause. Tuberculosis, too, is a looming threat, he said.

Mill president Larry Vinson of Decatur cited the problems small businesses face in trying to find out whether potential employees are here legally.

Spanish interpreter Frances Ferro observed that, because illegal workers can't get bank accounts or drivers' licenses, they are easier prey for criminals. Most of the talk you hear these days is how illegal immigrants are causing crime; being victims may be a greater problem.

And, speaking of crime, Huntsville Police Chief Rex Reynolds assured the audience that his officers "target driving maneuvers, not the person" in enforcing the law. No racial profiling here, he said.

This may sound on the surface like a lot of people raising a lot of topics to little purpose, but the truth is that this is such a complex matter that it's too often been reduced to emotionally charged sound bites.

People who don't want people here illegally - and that would include most Americans - must understand how difficult it is going to be to document workers who are already here, much less prevent more from coming, considering the hopeless lives their home countries offer.

And those who say the United States needs all the cheap labor it can get must understand the health and societal issues that illegal labor pose.

But even to cast the question in terms of those polar opposites doesn't do justice to the complexity of what's involved or the seriousness of what's at stake.

So there's more to be said. Maybe you have some ideas and insight on a subject that is going to require all of us to become involved with at some level.

If so, there's another meeting on Monday, July 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers of the Huntsville Municipal Building.
Bring your thoughts - and your good manners - to the forum. You'll get a chance to be heard, and a chance to hear some things you need to hear.

By David Prather, for the editorial board. E-mail:

© 2006 The Huntsville Times
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