By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The following is the second part of an interview conducted with Rep. Chris England.
APR: One of the things that PARCA has done is a fairly exhaustive study where there is a overlay where they have schools that are failing and over that you look at the crime rate and it’s higher. And then naturally, you look at the correctional institutions in that area and they are more heavily populated. So, there is no doubt that there is a correlation between poor education, crime and overcrowding of correctional facilities. So, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out if we can fix one then the other two should improve. I just find that fascinating.
When I was a kid, I went to school in North Carolina, my dad worked there so I went to school there for a while. He help found some of the technical schools. It was available 20 years ago to go to a technical school in North Carolina. You could go to a technical school and learn welding or different jobs like that and kids that were not headed to college were able to go to those schools and, for the most part, find a trade and make a living.
What is your thoughts on that?
ENGLAND: Well, we lose kids earlier and earlier when they disengage from the school system for various reasons. We should probably get those kids at an earlier age and encourage them to pick up a trade. Instead of dropping out, you may actually fool a kid into graduating from high school because they look at is as, “I’m working. I’m making a living for myself and I have to use my education to do that.” And who knows, they may actually graduate from high school and think, “Oh no, I really like this. I have my high school diploma, I can go on to college. But, we are not offering that kids enough of the options that are out there for whatever reason.
In African-American communities, for example, we have held onto the principle so long that you have got to go to college that we sacrificed, almost, a generation of kids. Some of the kids don’t necessarily want to do a full regimented school day. They don’t necessarily want to go to college. We can keep some of those kids from dropping out by encouraging them to look at an alternative track and before they know it they will graduate from high school with having a job and the ability to go to college.
APR: Well, I was talking to a retired electrical engineer the other day and we were talking about this issue, he said, “Some of the best electrical engineers that I ever worked with had other skills.” He said that they went to school and they knew how to weld or how to do various things. They learned those things and saw they could accomplish things and they went on to college and became engineers and they were the best engineers. Many of them were kids that didn’t think that they were going on to further education but because they became inspired and saw what they could accomplish that they did go on and do other things, I’m not going to say they were greater, but they did other things with their life.
ENGLAND: Most of the people that went on to four years of education and got a professional degree went on to end up with debt.
APR: That’s true.
ENGLAND: If I could encourage a kid that is in school right now, “If school is a problem for you, you pick up a trade, you get out of school and you are working, you don’t accrue the kind of debt that professional have to settle with their kind of career.” So, I went through the same thing.
You know what’s funny? You go home for the holidays and your family gets together, right? You’ve got the guy who comes home who got a trade making a ridiculous amount of money. Then you have the other guy who comes to the house that is a 37-year-old student, talking about, “I’m going to class, I’m going to school.” The family, they look at they guy who didn’t go to college who is making all of this money differently than the guy who is wasting all of this money in college because he didn’t get a degree. It kind of fosters that idea that the trade that is making you all of this money is somehow inferior to the guy who has been in school all of his life and not doing anything but wasting money.
APR: That is amazing but it is true. I remember, when we lived in New York City, I put in my own hardwood floors in my apartment and a friend of mine came over and said, “You know how to do that?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Did you know you could make at least 1/2 million dollars a year doing that here doing that? And I know you don’t make a 1/2 a million dollars a year.”
ENGLAND: Yeah, how can you tell?
APR: Because I put in my own hardwood floors. But, a guy that knows how to lay hardwood floors in Manhattan is going to make a whole lot more money than a guy like me is ever going to make, you know.
ENGLAND: I tell you, it happens all the time. You look at a guy who is basically running his own business. He has his own license. He’s a welder, he is running his own business and doing what the guy who stays in college for 50 years can’t do and not willing to do. We look at those two folks differently because this guy didn’t go to college.
APR: Yeah, so does the banker, he wants the guy that didn’t go to college because he has got a lot of money in his bank. But that is very interesting and it is insightful.
APR: While we are just going on this, what are some of the things on your mind for the legislative session?
ENGLAND: I am actually looking forward to the charter school debate because I believe that through that debate, if it doesn’t devolve into racial and socio-economic political-speak which is just a bunch of rhetoric, I am hoping through this debate we actually end up improving our public school system. We need to conduct a real analysis of where we are failing and how to fix it. I am assuming that through that personal debate, while we will have a bill, I don’t necessarily think that the majority party is convinced on what kind of format it is going to be in. Though I think we will have a healthy debate about that.
We are also going to have to deal with the immigration bill, obviously. I have said it once and I will say it to anyone who will listen, I think this is the worst piece of legislation that I have ever seen in my entire life. You can’t pigeonhole someone who says, “I am against that bill,” is somehow for or supporting illegal immigration. Two different things. It is a bad piece of legislation. It’s awful.
There are parts of it that contradict each other. Our poor Attorney General is getting the wrap because he has read the bill and legally knows that some of these things are impossible. He’s got to fix it but somebody will take a stance against the federal government and allow their constituency to be collateral damage.
To me that is not fair to the people that elected you, one. And two, a leader is just as willing to give an idea as he is to change it. So, we are going to have to deal with immigration legislation and put it in a format, I know it is not going anywhere, unfortunately, but put it in a format that is practical, usable, and effective.
APR: I think that is what he was trying to do with that memo is to put that out there. But, he certainly has taken a lot of heat on that.
ENGLAND: But, he is bound too because there are parts of that legislation that are virtually unenforceable. If we are going to be in a lawsuit that is going to cost us millions and millions of dollars, yet it is better to try to figure out what is wrong with it and try to remove those elements of that lawsuit than to continue on knowing that you are going to lose on that issue.
APR: Well, I think that Luther Strange is a very smart man and I don’t think he is foolish but he is in a box, for sure, in a lot of ways.
ENGLAND: I have read that bill backwards and forwards and I don’t envy his position because that bill has now become an affront on the federal government. Anywhere that there seems to be some receding from the party line or backing away from affront here looks like we are giving up to the federal government. But, again, as a politician and elected official you can not let your constituency be collateral damage for an unneeded, unnecessary fight with the federal government. You just can’t do it.
If you continue to go on and pretend that this bill is perfect you are being intellectually dishonest.
APR: Well, I am not convinced that the leadership thinks that it is perfect but it is polling well.
ENGLAND: But think about this, this is what gets me the most, two reasons. One, and primarily, you complain about the federal government’s inactivity concerning immigration, right?
ENGLAND: But then you pass a bill that is totally dependent on the federal government’s help. So, then when it fails, you just created another reason why the federal government isn’t doing its job in this situation, but you knew that before you started. Why do you need another example to prove what you already knew? The only thing you have generated now is a million dollar bill in legal fees. I’m a lawyer, I don’t have a problem with that. I mean lawyers need money.
But, when you knew before this started that the federal government wasn’t going to help you in this regard. You take this cause all you are going to do is cost your self a lot of loss, a lot of heartache, a lot of problems.
And two, we took the premise from the very beginning that–we wrote into the legislation that you cannot use race, nationality, origin to enforce it, right?
ENGLAND: But what is the premise for being here illegally? You are not from here.
So, how do you tell a police officer that you can’t use a person’s race, or nationality, or origin to enforce it when that is the whole idea? “You’re not from here.” So, you are putting them in a situation where they can’t necessarily enforce the law without violating it and if you don’t enforce it you can get sued.
There is a part of the bill that is a call to action any state official fully support and enforce immigration in the state of Alabama. On the other hand, some people can be arrested for obstructing governmental operations.
So, you have got a situation where, the bill, there are parts of it that cannot be enforced but if you don’t enforce it you can be arrested, prosecuted and sued. You’ve go to address those inconsistencies. You’ve got to.
But, there are about a million of them in there.
We turned a traffic ticket for not having a driver’s license into an arrest. In anybody’s mind that is a great thing. That is a great way to enforce our new illegal immigration statute–if you don’t have a driver’s license, we’ll take you in. Well, your citizenship and your driver’s license don’t have anything to do with each other. They are mutually exclusive.
You could be a person that has been here for three years on an expired visa and have a legitimate driver’s license. But you could also be an American citizen who has been here for 50 years and have a suspended or revoked license but we are still going to have to take you in because it is not valid. Now, what kind of sense does that make?
APR: Well, not much. Our country has very lax rules about driver’s licenses, passports, and just papers in general because Americans don’t want to be questioned or restricted. We have had a bad history of all kinds of profiling. It doesn’t fit our makeup to want to have to carry around a bunch of identification. For those of us who have travelled broadly in the world, we realize there are places where you better have your identification. If you are going to go to Israel you better have your stuff handy.
I understand it is a double-edged sword here. When my wife and I came back here, for several years we had parents that were in failing health, and that is the real reason we came back initially, we actually farmed. We have a farm that we inherited. It’s been there 100 years. We worked with a lot of migrant workers and Hispanics that were probably not here legally. Now, we did not employe any of them but knew then from just farming. The people we knew were very good people, hard-working folks, the kind of people that we would welcome in our community or welcome in our churches and in our country, but, then there are folks, like population in general, there is criminal elements.
It’s a terrible situation that has been allowed to be created because, in my mind, people wanted cheaper labor, they wanted folks that would do the job for less, and, therefore, we have allowed this to go on without addressing the situation because it is politically unsavory.
Reagan signed amnesty. But nothing was done to come up with better H1 visa programs or migrant worker programs, so it has fallen on the states like Alabama to say, “Well, the federal government won’t do anything, we are going to do something.” And then you go to places like Albertville where people feel like their culture has been taken over and they have lost control of their ancestry…
ENGLAND: That is where the chicken plant is, right? Isn’t that guy that runs that plant actually going to pick up those folks and bring them back?
ENGLAND: Okay, so who sounds like who is at fault here? Look, if we continue to turn a blind eye to it. But, I guarantee you that those folks wouldn’t be here if the opportunity wasn’t made available for them.
APR: Oh, absolutely. And I under stand that. I mean, it’s business that wants relatively cheap labor. If you go to Chandler Mountain where the raise millions of tomatoes, I’ve been there. I couldn’t weather a day out there picking tomatoes like that. I know that these folks are much more determined than I am and they don’t get paid well.
ENGLAND: And, again, it’s going to be a never-ending cycle. One of the things that we talked about, and it was laughed at, but it’s true, if you really wanted to deal with our problem, and that is presuming that you believe that there is a legitimate problem that requires this Medieval form of legislation, you could say, “Okay, you are working, it’s just that we want you to understand that you have broken our law.” Why don’t we come up with a process, since you are here, that is very similar to what you would have to go through to have came in the right way. That would create the opportunity for you to become an American citizen–not amnesty–but you are going to have to work for the citizenship. That means you pay a fine, you give up your personal information (fingerprints, DNA, or whatever). You are required to learn english and so forth, right?
ENGLAND: Then give you a certain amount of time to get that done. After that period of time, if you haven’t done it , you are a trespasser. Let’s put it in very blunt terms. You are a trespasser and then that creates a cause of action against you that we can prosecute to send you home.
But it doesn’t make sense that you came up with an arbitrary standard, that now, starting today, you are a trespasser even though you have been here for 25 years. We encouraged you to be here, we gave you a job, we let you work. We even let you build a family around what we gave you and now, all of a sudden, we’re going to turn and say, “Well, you are here illegally and we’ve got to send you back.”
It’s not fair. It makes us look awful and it kind of undermines a large part of our agricultural economy. But, again, we are having these conversations about reforming the law not because there are parts of it that are just wrong, legally wrong. We are having this conversation because business interests are pushing back and saying, “Look, we can’t deal with these regulations.”
So, now it is time to begin the process of revamping it, not because it makes sense or helps all of our government agencies but because business folks are telling the people who passed it, “We can’t deal with the regulations.”
Ultimately, our international relationships weren’t that good when two auto executives from Toyota and Mercedes were arrested for not having a driver’s license. There is no other way to look at that. So, on the same face as that we are taking a step back and we are going to look at it and see if we can’t prevent that from happening, again.
APR: I guess, I could say, once again, it is intellectual dishonesty, as you were talking about before, the constituents on some level want this type of tough immigration and it sounds good in political-speak, but then the reality of no one wants to pay $10 a pound for tomatoes…
There are 30 welding jobs in Guntersville today that are unfilled because 30 people that knew how to weld left the area. So, it’s a terrible dilemma. One that is not easily fixed. Then there is the moral component that says that we are to love our neighbor and that this is the land of opportunity. We encouraged you to come here, and now we are saying, well, we didn’t encourage that many of you to come here.
ENGLAND: It starts in the very beginning, they cross the border…I have watched about a million Republican debates now, and of course, the subject of immigration is involved because they put the statement out there, “Don’t go too far with it.” Then they test it to see how it played to their base so the comments evolve as we go through debates.
It was interesting, the last time I heard Newt Gingrich, he was basically talking about a guest worker program. The other two gentlemen, Santorum and Mitt Romney, said, “Well, we are going to send them home first.”
Sounds great. If you are all about this illegal immigration then sending them home first sounds right, put them in the back of the line. Who’s going to pay for that? How it that going to happen.
Wouldn’t it save us more money, effort and time if we approached the population that we are talking about and give them the opportunity.
Now, if you are going to commit criminal offenses, you are going to be out of here anyway. If you are going to wrap up yourself in law enforcement and they are going to get you out of here.
But, on the other hand, if you have been here for 25 years and never been in trouble and all you have ever done is go to work everyday, why would we want to send you home so you can start over in that arbitrary process that may take three or four years to complete? It doesn’t make any common sense but it sounds great.
APR: I do not pretend to have answers on this. I wrote that in an editorial and my email box filled up with folks that said they did.
ENGLAND: If it takes longer than 30 seconds to explain, it’s a lost cause.
APR: Unfortunately, I am not big on the electorate, I am sort of with the Churchills of the world, spend just five minutes with the average voter and you just won’t think that much of democracy anymore. But, I have friends that say our collective thinking is stronger than our individual intellect. I’m not sure that I buy that either, but I am one of those over-educated people.
ENGLAND: I have a Facebook page. I have Twitter feeds. But the best thing you can do is to have a legitimate conversation with someone. It’s only taking their information and gleaning their argument from what they see on TV or what they read in the newspaper.
Ultimately, that is where your message has to be, that’s where the rubber meets the road, that’s where your message has to be. But, it’s amazing that basic application of common sense sometimes makes the conversation shorter and you get to resolution versus people who just talk to placate to what they think people want to hear.
You would be surprised at times, somebody may disagree with you will end up having a better conversation if you just say what you think.
APR: I think you are absolutely right and that is why I have ventured forward on what I call, they are not interviews, they are having conversations.
We greatly appreciate Rep. England sharing his wisdom and insight. We expect to hear a lot more from him as the months and years progress. We wish him all the best as he serves the people of Alabama.