Paul Bridges, mayor of Uvalda, Georgia's 600 residents, describes himself as a Republican, a conservative, and Christian. And yet, he's broken ranks with his state's Republican governor, Nathan Deal, on a central issue of the modern Republican party. Bridges has joined the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center in a class-action lawsuit against the state of Georgia's draconian new immigration law, House Bill 87.
As our own Seth Freed Wessler has reported, HB87 would criminalize, and in some cases make it a felony offense, for a citizen to knowingly "transport" or "harbor" an undocumented immigrant -- in other words, to give someone a ride, or to provide a bed to sleep in. And while a federal judge has blocked parts of the law, the battle's far from over. In an op-ed for CNN, Bridges says the original HB87 would have made him a willing criminal, and kicks the law where it counts: in the ideology.
This shocking governmental intrusion on one's private activities is why Republicans like me are fighting to keep this heinous law off Georgia's books. Other Republicans, like Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, have understood this issue; even former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue sees the problem. I don't feel alone in this stance.
Furthermore, the law imposes an unfunded mandate that will mean a significant burden on every town's resources. Rather than focusing on their mission to protect and serve, our police officers will now be forced to rent space to jail anyone caught working or living in Uvalda without papers.
In other words, we'll take someone who had previously been contributing to our economy and pay to house him in a jail far from the community. No one knows how long it might take to process the prisoner and then to be picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This isn't the fiscal conservatism my party is supposed to promote.
Worse, the men and women who have friends or family members who are undocumented will be less likely to call the police as witnesses or victims of crime -- and that makes all of us less safe.
Simply put, the Georgia law will strip my town of its economic livelihood and deny those living here of their right to drive with their friends, host members of their family or engage in other daily activities without government intrusion. Any American who values liberty, privacy and prosperity should fight this unnecessary, unconstitutional and extremist law.
On Tuesday, CNN ran a fascinating profile of Bridges. (Fascinating and frustrating. Do any of these immigrants have names? And in what language does the phrase "illegal parents" mean anything, CNN? Please drop the i-word.) In the profile, Bridges discusses his ten-year transformation from casual critic of 'lawbreakers' to champion of human dignity. In those ten years, Bridges has taught himself Spanish so that he could teach others English; he helps out at the local gas station on check-cashing day, answering questions as a mayor and as a friend. He says he became mayor to represent everyone in his town, "including the people who would have no voice otherwise."
And hearing Bridges frame the issue is instructive; for example, he never calls his town's farmworkers "hard workers," a term many well-meaning Democrats stumble into. (Hey, if the work is so hard, let's kick the immigrants out and use farmwork as punishment for the formerly incarcerated!) Instead, he consistently brings up their skill -- as true skilled laborers, each worker is a vital and irreplaceable part of the local economy, like any other resident. Add this to his aggressive 'conservative values' framing, and it's clear that Bridges knows his audience, and his opposition's arguments. Here's hoping they learn his arguments just as well.