The following is a cross-post from the Montgomery Advertiser:
Last week I came to Alabama to march.
I marched because I remember the ordinary citizens who stood up against batons and fire hoses and injustice on the road from Selma to Montgomery 47 years ago.
I marched to celebrate how these courageous men and women rallied a nation’s conscience and helped America achieve one of our greatest civil rights victories with the passage of the Voting Right Act of 1965.
I marched because I remember President Lyndon Johnson’s warning during the chaos of Selma and “Bloody Sunday” nearly half a century ago.
“Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over,” he said. “What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. … Because, really, it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
I marched because President Johnson was right. The battle is not over. Last year brought fresh attacks on the right to vote, the right to organize, the right to receive a quality public education and, for some, even the right to walk down the street without fear.
I marched this week not only because Alabama’s immigration law, H.B. 56, threatens to undermine the basic American values of fairness and equality, but also because it is harming Alabama’s economy.
In Thomasville, Mayor Sheldon Day and his team have brought nearly 1,000 manufacturing jobs to town in a matter of months — in a town of less than 5,000 people. Thomasville is 60 miles from the nearest big city, but they’ve attracted $250 million in capital investment and almost all of it has been from international companies.
These businesses were drawn in by the promise of an abundant, quality workforce. It’s the kind of recruiting success that small-town mayors — or even big-city mayors — dream about. But now Mayor Day spends hours out of his day dealing with what he calls a “huge distraction.”
Thomasville leaders were excited about prospects for another big international deal. But now, the company says it’s going to wait and see if the immigration law is changed. Otherwise, it will likely take its jobs and revenue elsewhere.
This fight is about more than immigration policy; it’s about Alabama’s economic future. Mayor Day talks about the many hard-working legal immigrants in his town who left the state out of fear. He says Latino workers have been instrumental to the local timber industry for many years. He says they pay their taxes and support their community, but now they’re leaving and he does not want jobs and businesses to leave with them.
There is still time for lawmakers to do the right thing for Alabama’s economy. Until that happens, my department is letting all workers here know they still have the right to be paid the federal minimum wage. No state law can take that away.
I marched this week because families across this state are hurting right now, and it’s in our power to help them. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has been growing wider for way too long. The American people don’t have the luxury of waiting for the next election for Congress to act on job-creating measures the President has proposed. They need jobs now.