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633: Our Town - Part Two

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Act One: Christmas Lights and Fender Benders

Ira Glass

Randy Amos was police chief in Albertville, Alabama, during years when lots of immigrants moved to town. And people in town sometimes did not know what to make of them.

Randy Amos

I remember I would get calls from people saying, you've got to do something about these Mexicans next door. I'd say, well, what are these Mexicans doing? And they said, well, they're devil worshipers. And I said, what do you mean they're devil worshippers? Well, they're over here killing goats.

And of course, they would hear the cry of a goat when the throat was being cut, which is a bad sound. I agree. But they eat the goat. That was not a satanic ritual that they were going through.

And so we'd go back to the caller and explain to them, look, these people are not worshipping Satan. I'm sorry that you had to hear the goat cry. But it's not violating any laws or ordinances that we have in existence here in Albertville, Alabama.

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. This is our second episode about Albertville, Alabama. You don't need to have heard last week's show to understand this one. But just in case you missed it, here's our premise, very quickly.

The current attorney general, Jeff Sessions, wants to limit immigration to our country. His views have been instrumental in shaping administration policy. And as we explained in last week's show, his perspective comes from what he saw as a senator from Alabama when undocumented immigrants moved into poultry plants and other jobs around the state into towns like Albertville.

In just 20 years, Albertville went from being 98% white to more than 1/4 Latino. Basically, there were 15,000 people and then another 6,000 arrived, mostly for jobs in the town's chicken processing plants. There's no official estimate of this, but the people who know the Latino community best say that more than half the Latino adults are living here illegally-- maybe a lot more than half.

In the past, Jeff Sessions has mostly spoken about the effects of those immigrants on jobs and wages-- stuff that we talked about in last week's show. Last week, we stayed inside the chicken plants. But 6,000 new residents, non-white residents, in this little white town-- that also upended things outside the plants, to the point where Albertville became the statewide symbol in Alabama of everything that is wrong with immigration.

At one point, one of the big national heavy hitters on the immigration issue, Kris Kobach, flew in and declared the city a disaster zone. He wrote, quote, "I have been all over the country fighting this fight, and I have seen the damage done by illegal immigration in cities of every size. But Albertville is in a class by itself." He described a town of mobile home ghettos and a city budget, quote, "thoroughly drained by illegal immigration."

And the story of what really happened is so different from that. It's a mix of small local stuff in neighborhoods and in traffic-- traffic is actually a big deal-- and the local stuff sort of colliding with big national political forces that blew into town like a hurricane and reshaped how Albertville saw itself for a while-- but only for a while. And now, with the distance of a few years, it is actually possible to figure out the truth of what those 6,000 newcomers did to Albertville-- what they did to crime rates and schools and property values.

It's possible to say what having them in town really cost taxpayers. And we're going to get to all that today. My coworker, Miki Meek, and I have interviewed over 100 people for this. Miki is co-hosting these two hours with me. Stay with us.

Act Two: The March

Ira Glass

Act one-- Fender Benders and Christmas Lights. So in the early years, back in the '90's, as people slowly realized that newcomers have arrived and there are lots of them, the problem with the newcomers isn't the stuff that you usually hear about when people talk about immigration. It's not jobs or wages or the cost to taxpayers. It's other stuff, neighbor to neighbor stuff, cars and yards and dead goats.

Miki Meek

The first immigrants to move to town were single Mexican men living together in trailer parks. They weren't in the neighborhoods yet. So unless you worked at a poultry plant, your first meaningful encounter with one of the newcomers was probably in your car. The number of hit-and-runs more than doubled in Albertville once immigrants moved to town. And everyone we met seemed to have a story of someone in their family getting into a wreck or fender bender. Again, here's Randy Amos, the police chief in Albertville back in the '90's, and Benny Womack, his successor.

Randy Amos

First of all, they didn't drive very well and not familiar with the laws over here. It put an extra load on our officers answering those calls.

Benny Womack

They would run a stop sign, run a red light, DUI. They didn't have a driver's license, and they wouldn't have insurance.

Randy Amos

And it was almost a common practice. If they had a crash, and their vehicle was not disabled, they would run.

Benny Womack

You know, you can understand that. Because they were in here-- in the US-- illegally. They didn't want to be in contact with law enforcement.

Miki Meek

I talked to a bunch of the guys who arrived in the early waves of Mexican workers about this. They said, yeah, it's true. Most of them didn't know what they were doing on the road. Here's Claudio, who was in our first episode. He's speaking through an interpreter.

Claudio

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

He's like, I didn't know what that light was. I didn't know what that line meant.

Claudio

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

No, they didn't know. They would just, like, drive around, like, without doing absolutely anything, totally like idiots.

Claudio

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

You don't know what a stop was.

Claudio

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

You don't know what speed limit was.

Miki Meek

Was that hard to figure out-- to learn all the rules?

Claudio

Si. Si.

Miki Meek

They came from really rural places, where some of the guys told me they got around on a donkey or a horse. They didn't drive cars.

Ira Glass

Of the dozens of people we talked to, one of the people with the most interesting and complicated perspectives on the conflict between the Latino newcomers and the white people in town is Jeannie Courington. She was a city council member, a small business owner-- the kind of a town booster who opened the town's recycling center and then worked there for free for years just to get it off the ground.

And she was one of the locals who stood between the two communities as a go-between, explaining one side to the other. And when things eventually got pretty heated between the two sides, she was one of the main voices in Albertville urging tolerance and understanding, though she started with some of the same feelings that other people had. Back in the '90's, when Mexican workers were first arriving in Albertville, she owned and ran the town's travel agency on Main Street, which, in those pre-internet days, people would come in to book flights home to Mexico. And she is very frank when she talks about what that was like for her.

Jeannie Courington

I mean, I remember when they started coming in, because it was so-- it kind of made you nervous. They usually would come in multiples. They didn't come alone. I guess they were as afraid of us as we were afraid of them.

And there was just three women in the office. So it was kind of unnerving. Most of them kind of looked a little rough around the edges. [LAUGHS]

It would be like if I was in a room with any minority. I'm just not used to-- that's just not my everyday, you know-- you just always are a little concerned in everything. Because it's the unknown. And the only thing you hear is the bad things. So it kind of unnerves you.

Miki Meek

But she got used to being in a room with a minority. And that feeling changed for her. A lot of these early customers became regulars. And when the first Latino businessman moved onto Main Street with a little grocery store onto her same block, they ended up checking in with each other almost every day. This is him-- Jose Contreras.

Jose Contreras

Well, when I just have a chance, I can just go over there and just say hi and blah, blah, blah, and, you know, make some jokes.

Miki Meek

Jose is always making jokes. It's his go-to move in lots of situations. He's from the Dominican Republic, then Florida and Georgia. He came to Albertville in the '90's, because he heard Mexicans were moving into town, and he saw an opportunity. Guys would line up in front of the store on payday, because he'd cash their checks.

And because he spoke English, and because he's this warm, friendly guy, he became the de facto community leader for Latino transplants. The person they'd go to for advice on how to navigate everything from housing to where to play soccer. Jose loves sports.

He jokes that he and Jeannie bonded because they're both outsiders.

Jose Contreras

Because she's not born in Albertville. She was born in Crossville.

Miki Meek

Just, like, 10 minutes away.

Jose Contreras

Yeah. Well, no, it's about 25 minutes away.

Miki Meek

(LAUGHING) OK, 25.

Jose Contreras

Yeah.

Ira Glass

She said that you're definitely, like, the first Latino friend that she ever had.

Jose Contreras

Yeah. [LAUGHS] Yes. I think so, yeah. Because she's a lady that-- she's in the-- I don't know what is the word that will come up to my mind. She's a high class lady. She's more open-minded, because she has traveled.

Ira Glass

Was she the white person in town who you knew the best?

Jose Contreras

Oh, yeah. She's the only one that I can trust. [LAUGHS]

Miki Meek

Jose explained to Jeannie a whole other way to look at people who are living here illegally, and what they go through, debunking all sorts of stuff. And so she went off reading and researching on her own and found herself suddenly this translator to the white people in town.

Jeannie Courington

Somehow it would just always come up. It would come up about people being here illegal, and I would try to explain, well, our government makes it really hard for them to become legals. They have to go through so many steps.

And I'd try to explain, even though they may be illegal, somehow they've got a social security number, and they're paying taxes. I felt like I was always defending them. I just felt like-- I don't know. I guess I just had a sense in my gut that they're here to stay.

Ira Glass

By 1996 or '97, with so many hundreds of people moving to town, housing's tight. The workers start moving from the trailer parks into rental houses in the neighborhoods around town, lots of them packed into single family homes. Some houses started moving their families up from Mexico.

Quick picture of the town-- Albertville is nice. There's a quaint little historic section in Main Street. The Tennessee River is nearby. It's pretty green. There's a four-lane highway with all the regular strip mall stuff and fast food. Most of the town is one-story houses with shutters, neatly mowed lawns, and little red flags for the high school band all over the place.

And for the locals, anything in the residential areas that deviated from that look was not so welcome. And so after the traffic accidents, this becomes the next big deal in town. Jeannie gave us a driving tour and explained why this grated on people so much.

Jeannie Courington

If you look right here, just as an example, things like this would be what people would see and be very upset with.

Ira Glass

And just describe this yard.

Jeannie Courington

Well, you have a car parked right in the front yard. You can see where they've destroyed the grass that's been on it because of all the traffic on it. You see garbage cans sitting right in the front door, trash scattered on the yard.

Here, you see this next house. You've got one, two, three, four, five, six cars sitting in it.

Miki Meek

Years ago, there'd be lots of people living in one house. There'd be noise. Landlords wouldn't keep up the property. People moved in and out. They were there to make money, not settling into the neighborhood. And these were people from the countryside in Mexico, where a perfectly kept front lawn was not a thing.

Residents were scared it would drive down property values. But for Albertville, overall, with thousands of people moving to town in a limited amount of housing, property values went up, faster than for the state as a whole. We drove by one house painted a bright lime green and another bright blue. There were houses in town with Christmas lights year round. Jeannie was like, that's just not what people here are used to.

Jeannie Courington

It's like, that's not our culture to do that.

Ira Glass

But when non-white people move into a white neighborhood nearly anywhere, you'll hear this-- like, messy yards, too many people in one house, too many cars. They're noisy. There's loud music-- like, that kind of stuff. And then often, that's code words for people just don't want non-white people moving in.

Jeannie Courington

That's true. Yes, some of it is prejudice. You're going to look at the house and you think, I've got a wife and a five-year-old kid. That looks pretty trashy with all these cars there. That doesn't look safe for my family while I'm going to work.

Ira Glass

That's the prejudice part.

Jeannie Courington

That's the prejudice part.

Ira Glass

It's really easy to show up in any small town anywhere and look at how people react to change and decide that it all belongs in this bucket of prejudice. But in Albertville, it was hard to parse out just how much was prejudice and how much was just people dealing with something new. That was real, also.

And we'd get into these conversations where people would ask us to take that seriously. Like, there really were more hit-and-runs. Some streets really did look different than they used to. One guy who worked at the local paper, whose family had lived in town for generations, put it this way. For a place which hadn't seen much change, it was just a lot to take in in a very short period of time.

People look different, and paint their houses differently, and speak a different language, and it just seemed to come out of nowhere. People did not know how to deal with it. Immigration economist George Borjas named a book after this great quote about immigration. The quote's about immigrants arriving in the country.

Somebody once said, we wanted workers, but we got people instead-- meaning real people, who had their own ways of life. It might not match up with how people live in the new country. It's never easy. That's what happened in Albertville.

Miki Meek

The next thing people noticed totally plays into all sorts of ugly stereotypes. People see Spanish names on the police blotter, which was printed in the local newspaper, the Sand Mountain Reporter. These were usually write-ups about driving without a license, DUIs, public intoxication-- small stuff. And then, years into all of this, people started seeing major crimes appear in the paper committed by Latino men around Albertville.

A man was shot and dismembered just outside of town. Five pounds of meth were seized in a drug raid. Five brothels were busted in the trailer parks around town. Chief of Police Benny Womack says brothels were something the town had never seen before.

Benny Womack

The Hispanic community was getting all the attention about crime and that sort of thing. It becomes a big issue for the citizens.

Ira Glass

Immigrant crime, of course, is one of those big topics where liberals and conservatives square off with their arguments that are, at this point, very familiar to many of us. But liberals point out that most studies on immigrant crime show that people who immigrate to this country are less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans. America Firsters say that even one crime committed by somebody who's not in the country illegally is a crime too many, and we shouldn't stand for it. That's the president's view, and he set up a federal office that documents these crimes.

So putting the rhetoric aside, how exactly did this play out in this one small town in Alabama? Well, during the period when the immigrants arrived-- 1990 to 2010-- there was an explosion of all kinds of crime in town. The numbers are kind of stunning. Arrests for drug possession quintupled. Property crime rates more than tripled. That's burglary, theft, and car theft. Violent crimes almost quadrupled, though in the last few years, they've fallen back to where they started.

But I talked to John Siggers, who's the commander of the drug enforcement unit for the county Albertville is in-- Marshall County-- and was an Albertville police officer from 1997 to 2007, right in the middle of the period that we're talking about. And I asked him about all that extra crime.

Ira Glass

Are most of the drug arrests Latinos?

John Siggers

No. No. Absolutely not. Most of the meth possession cases are-- I would say-- 90-something percent Caucasian.

Ira Glass

And what about the property crime cases in town?

John Siggers

That would be Caucasian.

Ira Glass

He explained these kinds of property crime rates are just a side effect of drug use and drug crime. It's people stealing to feed their habits.

John Siggers

You know, that happens, not just in Albertville, not just in Marshall County or Alabama, but all over the country.

Ira Glass

The way police describe it there was an epidemic of meth use around Albertville that started around the time the immigrants arrived. It was all over the country back then and unrelated to their arrival. Around Albertville, there was mostly home-cooked meth. But then state law made it difficult to get the ingredients for home-cooked meth, and the Mexican drug cartel stepped in using Albertville as a base to supply a swath of northern Alabama.

Sigger says today that every meth arrest they make they can trace back to Mexican distributors. But Sigger says that if there were no Latino population in Albertville, there very well might be just as much drug and property crime in town, because the meth would just come in through Atlanta.

John Siggers

So whether the Hispanic population was here or not, Atlanta is still the hub. And we're located three hours from Atlanta. The drugs would still come in here.

Ira Glass

So Albertville is in this strange situation where most of the immigrant residents are not involved in drug trafficking or organized crime. The police say they actually tip them off about crimes. And if the immigrants had never been to town, the amount of drug trafficking and crime really might not have been very different in Albertville. But that is not the conclusion people are drawing from what they read in the newspaper.

Miki Meek

For the first decade and a half that Latino families were moving to Albertville, probably the best place to track how longtime residents were feeling about the changes was in the local paper, the Sand Mountain Reporter. They had letters to the editor in a column called "Speak Out," where any irate resident could call an answering machine and leave an anonymous message that would then get printed in the paper.

People complained pretty much any time the city spent money on Latino residents. And then an equal number of their neighbors would call the complainers "bigots" and tell them to go read their bibles, which didn't stop anyone.

Ricky Ibarra

It was like every week, every week. People were just like, get all these illegals out of here, taking the welfare and using it, taking our jobs, doing crime-- like every week, every week, every week.

Miki Meek

This is Ricky Ibarra, one of the first Latino graduates of Albertville High School, part of the generation of kids who grew up speaking English, and whose parents moved to town to work in the poultry plants. He says the older Latino people, they don't read the newspaper.

Ricky Ibarra

But, like, the college students, high school students, we're more to what's going on, you know? So you would want to read it just to see what the atmosphere was.

Ira Glass

And it was pretty bad it sounds like.

Ricky Ibarra

But it was bad because you read it-- or at least, to me-- I would read it and-- I mean, I used to work in companies where we were just surrounded. Sometimes I was the only Mexican there. So it used to have me feeling like, I wonder if they're thinking the same thing, which-- I mean, that was bad, because some of the people I used to work with they were pretty good with me.

But it would just mess up the whole day. Because you would see that early in the morning. And then it'd just have you thinking thoughts.

Act Three: Backlash

Ira Glass

Which brings us to act two, The March. In 2006, President Bush tries to get Congress to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. There's a wave of marches around the country in support of that.

George W. Bush

Good evening. The issue of immigration stirs intense emotions. And in recent weeks, Americans have seen those emotions on display. On the streets of major cities, crowds have rallied in support of those in our country illegally.

Miki Meek

Ricky and a bunch of other Latino residents who had been living in town for a while and spoke English started talking about whether they should organize a march in Albertville for immigrants. They tried to enlist Jose Contreras, the guy with the grocery store on Main Street, who they were buddies with. Here's Jose.

Jose Contreras

I'd say, are you crazy? You're going to be all in jail. [LAUGHS] And he said, why? Why? I said, because you have to ask for permission. Are you sure? I said, let me find out. I can find out. And I called Jeannie.

Miki Meek

Jeannie, of course, his friend on the city council who owned the travel agency. At this point, Albertville is around 20% Latino. The population has been growing for 15 years. But there's been no official outreach from the city. There's no Latino resident on the city council. So this was the back-channel way things would get done.

Jose would talk to Jeannie about things going on in the community. Jeannie would take it to the people running the city.

Jeannie Courington

And so he brought it to my attention. And then I went to the mayor and the city council president at that time. And they kind of just laughed. And they didn't think it was-- nobody's going to show up. So needless to say, everybody was a little bit shocked when there was about 5,000 people.

Miki Meek

5,000 marchers poured through the streets of Albertville, blocking off the lane of traffic. White people were shocked. Latino people were shocked. The organizers were shocked.

Jose Contreras

Oh, yeah. We were laughing. I was laughing. We were like, I don't know what we did.

Ira Glass

Jeannie shared a snapshot she took of the crowd-- a long, calm procession.

Jeannie Courington

All the people-- yes, they all wore white shirts. But they all-- if you notice that they all were carrying an American flag and talking about being-- I don't have my glasses on. So I can't read their sign there. So-- but--

Ira Glass

We love the USA.

Jeannie Courington

Yes.

Miki Meek

The organizers told people not to bring Mexican flags. People picked up litter along the route. Jose and his friend Luis reimbursed the police department for their officers' overtime during the march. Again, here's Ricky.

Ricky Ibarra

It was actually the biggest crowd in Alabama, even bigger than Birmingham and Hunstville.

Miki Meek

I mean, do you think this march-- do you think it freaked out some people in town to see in such--

Ricky Ibarra

Oh, I think it did. I mean, I think that's what it did, really. Because they were more stunned.

Jeannie Courington

I think it did freak the people out of the community.

Ira Glass

Again, Jeannie.

Jeannie Courington

It was a shock. I mean, it was like, holy cow, you know? I've never seen this many people-- you know, they'd see them around town but never in that massive a number. It was just kind of hard for our town to kind of absorb.

Ira Glass

So it was like a wake-up call.

Jeannie Courington

Yeah, kind of. And they were afraid they were going to take over their town.

Ira Glass

Why did you take these pictures?

Jeannie Courington

Well, I guess I felt like, at that time, it was a moment of history.

Ira Glass

And it is a historical moment. What does it represent?

Jeannie Courington

Change.

Ira Glass

Coming up-- why some of the people in the march came to regret it. That's in a minute on Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Four: Let’s Do the Numbers

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. It's our second program about Albertville, Alabama, the town that went from nearly all white to more than 1/4 Latino in two decades. My co-host today is Miki Meek. We've arrived at act three of our program. Act three-- Backlash.

So after the march, now that the locals had realized just how many Latino families had moved into town, a long period of backlash kicks off. At first, it's modest. The city council passes a few new ordinances and starts enforcing a few old ones, hoping to clean up the way things look around town. Oh, and by the way, if you want to hold a march, you now needed to apply 10 days in advance.

Miki Meek

They also tried to get the federal government to deport people. The police partner up with ICE-- Immigration and Customs Enforcement-- so that anytime they have someone in jail they suspect is undocumented, they call ICE. In the first year, 300 people are turned over into ICE custody. And the city asks the feds to give Albertville police officers the power to do immigration arrests. Police Chief Benny Womack said most people in town didn't understand that his officers couldn't enforce federal immigration law.

Benny Womack

You see, the citizens-- and probably still don't-- know why a police officer, a local police officer, can't do something about that problem. That's where I was getting flack. Why don't you do something? You're a cop. And sometimes even if you explain it to them, they don't understand.

Miki Meek

If Benny wanted his cops to make immigration arrests, they had to get special authorization and training under a federal program called 287(g). The city applied for it. Their congressmen and their senator, Jeff Sessions, went to bat for them. A handful of officers did some training with ICE, and Benny kept requesting 287(g) authorization and a detention facility to hold immigration violators.

But it all fell apart. Federal priorities changed, and they never ended up getting the authorization they wanted.

Ira Glass

While all of this was going on in town, this interesting thing happened. The anti-immigration forces on the national scene scored a huge victory against the president of the United States, President Bush, and a bipartisan group of senators. They killed off Bush's proposed path to legal status in 2007. And then, with the wind at their backs, they headed out into a period of energized experimentation in Arizona, Georgia, and in Alabama.

They started raising the flag on the issue around the state. A conservative group called The Eagle Forum held public meetings in Mobile, Montgomery, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham. State legislators sounded the alarm about how undocumented immigrants were a drain on taxpayers and how they drove down wages and stole jobs. Joe Hubbard was a state representative for Montgomery, a Democrat, who noticed how his Republican colleagues seemed to be strategizing from a new playbook. He says that before this--

Joe Hubbard

Your state legislator was as local a politician as you got. He was the guy that you talked to about schools. He was the guy that you talked to about funding for that road project you need. I think that from 2004 to 2006-- and ultimately, in 2010-- you saw efforts by the Alabama Republican Party to nationalize local elections, and to talk about what's going on in DC, the Congressional Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, on and on. I think there was polling that showed immigration, which, heretofore, has been a national issue, could make for good state political fodder.

Miki Meek

The person leading the charge in Alabama was a Republican state senator, Scott Beason. As he stumped the state calling for action, he got accused of trying to rile up voters over something that was a non-problem in Alabama. Alabama's not Arizona or Texas. They just didn't have that many immigrants, documented or undocumented. It was just 3% of the population. Only a handful of states had fewer. But Beason had an answer at the ready.

Scott Beason

And a lot of people said, let's don't deal with this issue, because we don't have a big population. So why would you deal with it? But what I looked out and saw was the states that did not deal with it decades ago eventually became paralyzed, because the population had grown so big businesses were addicted to the labor. So we were trying to nip it in the bud.

Ira Glass

And when you were going around, talking about this around the state, did you feel like it was popular? Did you feel like people were on your side?

Scott Beason

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Ira Glass

What was the polling like?

Scott Beason

It was overwhelming.

Miki Meek

Beason's an environmental consultant turned Tea Party politician-- a chatty guy. And his first big win was convincing the legislature to create a special commission, which he co-chaired-- the Alabama Patriotic Immigration Commission-- to hold hearings around the state on the issue. Albertville inserts itself into this discussion more than any other city in the state of Alabama.

Scott Beason

People were saying Albertville is a place you need to check out. It just kind of bubbled to the top.

Miki Meek

Scott Beason says-- and there's no doubt it's true-- that the person who pushed Albertville to the top was a longtime Albertville resident named Teresa Ferguson.

Scott Beason

I know Teresa well. Well, a lot of Republicans in the state know Teresa. And a lot of that is from her efforts of saying, hey, come look and see what is going on here.

Miki Meek

How would you describe Teresa Ferguson?

Scott Beason

I think she's a great lady. I would say one of her gifts is the ability to reach out to elected officials. And I think she really cares about her community. And she's one of the nicest people I've ever met.

Teresa Ferguson

Now, there's a whole a cake. I mean, there's plenty more.

Ira Glass

Thank you.

Of the dozens of interviews that we did in people's homes in Alabama, this was the only one that started with an Italian cream layer cake, served by our interviewee, Teresa Ferguson. Teresa is in her 60s, runs a pearl jewelry business from her house-- one of her sons, a big political strategist. And Teresa is so connected in the world of Alabama politics that during our interview, at a personal request, the state's current attorney general dropped by.

Teresa Ferguson

Are you sure you don't want a piece of cake?

Steve Marshall

I'm great. Thank you. At a community event--

Miki Meek

Teresa was on the stage with Donald Trump this year when he came to the state to endorse Luther Strange for Senate. And she's known Jeff Sessions for years. She first got to know him to get help with a family situation. Her daughter-in-law is Chinese, and was in China about to have a baby, having a hard time getting a visa. And the process was just taking too long. And she was introduced to Sessions when he was visiting a local hospital.

Teresa Ferguson

And I told him-- I said-- as a joke-- I said, I probably should just fly her to Mexico and bring her in the back of a pickup truck. That would be a lot easier. That's the way everybody else does it. You know?

Ira Glass

And what did he say?

Teresa Ferguson

And he just kind of laughed and had this funny look on his face, I think.

Miki Meek

She ran into him at other events. She started telling him about all the problems in Albertville she felt were caused by undocumented immigrants.

Teresa Ferguson

And he was just so nice to listen. I mean, he's just such a nice man, anyway-- just a precious person. And he listened-- you know, because you have a couple of minutes to bend their ear a little. And then after that, I guess after you talk to him a couple of times, there's my friend. [LAUGHS]

Miki Meek

Teresa's beef with the undocumented immigrants in town was a mix of things, including the belief that they were costing the town money it just couldn't afford.

Teresa Ferguson

You get labeled a racist if you just want to even discuss. It's that you're here, and it's against the law, and we're paying for you to be here. You're not paying your taxes. You're going to school free.

Ira Glass

We get into that later in the show. We asked an economist to run the numbers on that for us. Teresa talks about teacher friends of theirs-- her husband worked for the public schools before he retired-- who have to pick and choose what they buy at the grocery store. And then they see Latino families in the cashier line with food stamps-- and I just want to say, I know they're not food stamps anymore, but that's what everybody in town calls them. Kids who are born here can get them even if their parents are undocumented.

Teresa Ferguson

The last time I went through the line, just as an example, the family did not speak English. One child-- probably about 10-- they had several children-- spoke English-- very polite, very nice. They finished with their groceries. Cashier said, your groceries were, like, $93-- something like that. That will be $2.69. When you see that time and time and time again--

Ira Glass

When you see something like that-- people in the grocery store-- like, it's possible those kids are American citizens.

Teresa Ferguson

Well, they are. Because they have the WIC card. The parents, probably, are not.

Ira Glass

So do you feel like it's unfair if the kids are citizens?

Teresa Ferguson

Nothing's ever fair. That's not the deal. But you know, we can't take care of everybody. So you have to look to take care of the people in your own country first.

Miki Meek

In 2008, the group that was organizing meetings about immigration around the state-- The Eagle Forum-- asked Teresa to organize one in Albertville. And she did.

Newscaster 1

The immigration debate took center stage at a town hall meeting in Marshall County tonight. WAFF 48's Trang Do joins us live in Albertville. Trang, the scene got pretty heated.

Trang Do

Emotions ran high at the two-hour meeting tonight. And many were eager to voice their opinions. The meeting attracted more than 200 people on both sides of the immigration debate.

Teresa Ferguson

I just remember standing in the door, greeting everybody as they would come in. Thank you for coming! It was popping at the seams that night-- mostly people I didn't know!

Ira Glass

At the meeting, people weren't complaining like always about the local stuff-- about messy yards and uninsured drivers. Everybody agreed that they were part of a bigger story. This wasn't just Albertville's problem. It was Alabama's and the country's. And for the first time, they got a glimpse that they could rise up and do something about it.

The 90-minute presentation explained how they could fight the problem at the local, state, and national levels, and how to pressure their representatives. Speakers urged them to support a new anti-immigration bill that was going to be coming up in the state capital.

Miki Meek

And in the wake of that meeting, Teresa and a couple people start this group, Concerned Citizens, where they try to figure out what can be done next. It's not a big group-- maybe 10 to 12 regulars. But two of them ended up running for office. And they defined the city's new political climate.

By the time the next election came around in Albertville, in the summer of 2008, immigration was the main thing everyone was talking about-- fueled by Concerned Citizens and a new statewide fervor over the issue. Their senator, Jeff Sessions, came to City Hall and talked to an overflow audience of mostly older white folks who fumed about the expense to taxpayers and 287(g), that program the police wanted that would let them enforce immigration laws. Sessions promised to follow up and get their officers trained.

In the city council race that year, there was a lot of talk about how the city was at a critical juncture. Jeannie Courington, the travel agent who found herself always explaining the Latino population to their white neighbors, was an incumbent on the city council back then. And she ran for mayor to try to redirect the conversation away from confrontation. At the candidate forum, she says, people demanded action.

Jeannie Courington

You know, I think everybody thought that you could do something about it-- that you could, you know, control it. And you know, we couldn't control that. We can't build a wall around Albertville. But those were some of the things. I mean, they were just naive enough to think that-- I mean, that would be a direct question. If you're elected mayor, what are you going to do about all these Hispanics or illegals in town?

Ira Glass

What are you going to do, meaning to get rid of them.

Jeannie Courington

Yeah. Uh-huh. Exactly.

Ira Glass

And what would you say?

Jeannie Courington

Well, they're here in our community, and I believe that they're here to stay. We need to befriend them. It's not going to be the all-white, sweet little community we used to be.

Ira Glass

And do you think that hurt you with voters?

Jeannie Courington

I think so.

Ira Glass

Her friend Jose told her that her strategy was all wrong if she wanted to win. Here's how she needed to talk about immigrants.

Jose Contreras

Kick them out. Tell them that you're going to kick them out each by each.

Ira Glass

Wait, you told Jeannie to just lie? Just say you're going to kick out all the immigrants?

Jose Contreras

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I said, go ahead and say a lie, because-- and she'd never say it. She never said it. She never said it.

Ira Glass

And that's why she lost.

Jose Contreras

And that's why she lost.

Ira Glass

Jose wasn't right about what the voters wanted. Most people in town turned out not to be as worked up as that. They did not pick a hard-liner. They chose a pretty moderate mayor, Randy Amos. He's the police chief you heard at the top of the show explaining that killing a goat did not violate city law. His views on immigration weren't that different from Jeannie's. He got more than twice the votes of any other candidate.

But in a stunning and unexpected turn of events, because of a fluke, the town went in a direction they did not choose. Right after the vote, the city found out that someone in Randy's campaign had missed the deadline to file some campaign forms. They couldn't certify him as the winner of the mayor's race.

Instead, Randy was put on the city council. And for mayor, they appointed somebody who'd won a council seat who was a member of Teresa Ferguson's group, Concerned Citizens, who had vowed forceful and immediate action against undocumented immigrants, named Lindsey Lyons-- a business owner who runs the Arby's on the big highway through town. Soon after he took office, he talked about his plans to tackle the way the city looked, schools, uninsured drivers--

Lindsey Lyons

The crime, the drugs, all the automobile accidents, and so forth.

Ira Glass

This is an interview he did with Birmingham News.

Lindsey Lyons

For the most part, the majority of the people here are caring, loving people. But on the other hand, illegal is illegal. And we have no choice but to enforce what laws we have and not just bend the rules because we're asked to bend the rules.

Miki Meek

From the start, he and Randy Amos locked horns and pretty much never stopped fighting. People picked sides. And Lyons sets the council on a divisive crusade targeting the Latino population.

They bar city contractors from hiring undocumented immigrants. They make English the official language of Albertville. They ban taco trucks, which leads to an uproar. 200 people pack a town hall meeting.

Not everything passes, like the proposal to force Latino businesses to translate their signs into English, or their proposal that would fine anyone who keeps their Christmas lights up past January 31st, or anyone who has indoor furniture on their porch outdoors, or broken vehicles on their lawn. And then one of the hard-liners on the council turned for help to the national anti-immigration heavyweight we quoted at the top of the show-- an innovator from the very cutting edge of the movement.

Man 1

Albertville city officials are continuing their quest in curbing illegal immigration. So they've enlisted the help of a nationally recognized attorney, Kris Kobach.

Man 2

He is the man when it comes to illegal immigration issues.

Man 1

Councilman Chuck Ellis says he's--

Ira Glass

Today, Kobach is an ally of President Trump's. He's the person who explained to Donald Trump how the US actually could make Mexico pay for a wall. He's the vice chair of the federal commission that the president set up to investigate voter fraud. But back in the 2000s, Kobach was traveling to cities around the country, helping them draft anti-immigration ordinances that tested the limits of what the law would allow. They targeted landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants and employers who hired them, hoping to create an environment where they just could not get jobs or housing anymore.

Kris Kobach

Then they make the rational decision-- hey, wait. It's not worth it to be here anymore. I'm going to leave.

Miki Meek

This is Kobach in an Eagle Forum meeting in Alabama around this time.

Kris Kobach

You don't have to round people up and bus them home. You give them incentives to go home by rationing down the probability that they will get a job.

Chuck Ellis

I'd emailed him. I don't know how I got his email address. It seemed like it was on a website or something.

Miki Meek

This is Chuck Ellis, the mayor's closest ally on the council, also a member of Teresa Ferguson's group, Concerned Citizens.

Chuck Ellis

And I told him who I was. And he said that he had read about that before in couple of places. He wanted to know how he could help me. I stood right over there behind that chair, and we chatted. And he said, hey, look, I'll come out.

Miki Meek

The proposal was to hire Kobach to help them write a law that would fine employers who knowingly hired undocumented immigrants. This plan died when one of the moderates on the council, Diane McClendon, called another city that used Kobach-- Valley Park, Missouri. Kobach helped them write ordinances that targeted employers and landlords. The city passed the ordinances and immediately got sued by civil rights groups for being discriminatory and unconstitutional. This mired them for years in expensive and fruitless litigation. Diane talked to their lawyer.

Diane Mcclendon

And I asked him what came out of it. He said it cost millions-- the city-- millions. And I said, would you recommend it? He said, absolutely not. He said, nothing is going to come of it. And he said, I would not recommend it.

Miki Meek

The council voted against hiring Kobach on a 3-2 vote. But Kobach found someone else to work with-- state senator Scott Beason, the guy leading the statewide fight against undocumented immigrants, the guy who created that commission to investigate the problem. In 2010, he and Kobach got their chance to do something major. For the first time in over 100 years, Republicans swept both Alabama houses and the governorship, which suddenly made it possible to pass sweeping new legislation targeting immigrants.

Kobach helped Beason draft it. It was called HB 56, the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.

Newscaster 2

And now to the crackdown on illegal immigration in Alabama. The state's new immigration law is considered one of the toughest in the country.

Newscaster 3

So we came here to Albertville, Alabama.

Ira Glass

2011, Fox News. Alabama's new law, HB 56, was groundbreaking-- the most extreme anti-immigration state law ever passed, intended to make life in Alabama so unpleasant that people would self-deport. To accomplish this, they'd made it a criminal act for citizens to have all kinds of transactions with people that they knew or should know were undocumented-- to rent them a home or harbor them or transport them. It was illegal to give them a job. Most contracts with them were invalidated.

Some public utilities refused to provide gas, electricity, or water without proof of status. Schools had to find out the immigration status of new students and report that information to the state. Police could detain anybody they even suspected might be in the country illegally. And to get the bill passed, Scott Beason says he definitely relied on Albertville.

Scott Beason

Albertville did make a difference by being able to take some legislators there. Because some people lived in places that weren't impacted by illegal immigration. And they were buying into this story that, oh, it's really not a big deal, and we really don't have a problem here. So it was more to show that, look, there are some towns who are being impacted by illegal immigration. So they could really see it. So it was a reality.

Teresa Ferguson organized tours of the worst problem spots-- she called it the show-and-tell-- for any politician who came to town. State senators, three gubernatorial candidates, the attorney general, a member of Congress-- she had talking points on index cards that she carried around in her purse at all times. She drove me to some of the spots.

Teresa Ferguson

But this is the trailer park I was telling you-- here in the back was a trailer used as a brothel.

Ira Glass

We went to places there had been prostitution and drug busts.

Teresa Ferguson

I think this right here-- don't want to slow down very much. But you see--

Ira Glass

She invited her own state senator, Hinton Mitchem, who had once lived in Albertville, out on the show-and-tell. A police officer drove them around to see rundown trailer parks and places they'd made arrests. After half an hour, she says, the car returned.

Teresa Ferguson

And when they opened the door, Senator Mitchem looked like they had just beaten him with a stick. You know, he just was so sad. He said, I am so sorry. I did not know.

Miki Meek

So after Albertville helped get HB 56 passed, once it went into effect, when reporters looked for a place to see it in action, Albertville was the place they went to. Mayor Lindsey Lyons-- he was on Fox, CNN, NPR, and TV around the state. He told the Sand Mountain Reporter, quote, "People may not realize that Albertville had a large impact on this bill. Some of the ideas in the bill originated here in Albertville." Here he is being interviewed on NPR.

Lindsey Lyons

There's less traffic on our streets now. There's less activity in the Hispanic-owned businesses that are here in Albertville. So we can tell a noticeable difference already.

Man 3

Do you like what this has done to your town?

Lindsey Lyons

I'll tell you why I support it, and why I'm grateful right now. We've got close to 4,000 people in Marshall County out of work. And one of our local poultry plants, Wayne Farms, just had a job fair recently. And we had hundreds of Americans apply for these jobs that, in the past, could not get the jobs, because they would hire the illegal workforce. OK? And that's what I'm proud of right now.

Miki Meek

Lyons made this claim to lots of reporters. Tom Howell was head of HR at Wayne Farms in Albertville at the time.

Tom Howell

And I have to admit that they shocked me. Because that's certainly not true. It had no impact.

Miki Meek

Frank Singleton was and is the spokesperson for Wayne Farms. He says they lost 17 out of 850 workers.

Frank Singleton

There were not hundreds of local people who suddenly showed up and got jobs at Wayne Farms as a result of any of those bills.

Miki Meek

The real impact of HB 56 on Albertville was this. Some people moved away. A lot of people stayed home or stayed off the roads. One guy told us he gave people rides in the trunk of his car. Businesses that catered to Latino customers saw a big drop. And in just three days, the schools lost about 120 Latino kids out of 1,400, according to administrators.

Judit Gay

It was all of a sudden-- you know, bing, bang, boom.

Miki Meek

This is the person in charge of outreach to Latino families for the school district, Judit Gay.

Judit Gay

Oh, that was a terrible week. I would see their parents come in, crying, and the teachers crying, and withdraw the children. And we would just look at each other and hug, and they would cry. And I mean, it was just a bad week.

Ira Glass

To lots of longtime residents in Albertville, it seemed like their town was constantly on television during this period-- that any time anybody did a story about HB 56, they'd come to Albertville and talk about how terrible the town was-- how, before the law, undocumented immigrants had ruined the city, stealing jobs, bringing in crime, drugs. Nathan Broadhurst was one of the moderates on the city council.

Nathan Broadhurst

It was all negative. I mean, every way we were being portrayed was negative. I think that was totally counterproductive. It caused fear and distrust. And it's hard to build a community on that type of thing.

Act Five: Today

Ira Glass

Act four-- The Numbers. So all the time in Albertville people would bring up the thing that's at the heart of the immigration issue for so many people. And that is-- the millions of people who are living in the country illegally, what's that cost taxpayers? Like, what's it cost them? And one of the things we were excited to investigate when we went to Alabama was to figure out, what is the real answer to that for this one town? Like, how much money was it?

Well, there are different ways to estimate this. And the National Academy of Sciences tried to convene as impartial and unbiased a look at the evidence as possible to come up with numbers for the whole country. They assembled 18 economists and demographers and sociologists from varying points of view to figure out, what do immigrants cost taxpayers? They issued their report last year.

Kim Rueben served on the NAS committee. She's an economist at the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute and helped me sort through the findings. The 618-page report is dense with charts and tables. Rueben pointed out, if you're an undocumented worker in an Albertville poultry plant, you still have to present a social security number to get the job, and so you pretty much pay the same taxes as anybody.

Kim Rueben

So you are paying sales taxes on the things you buy. You're paying property taxes, either if you own your home or through the rent you're paying to your landlord. And depending on whether or not you're working with somebody else's documents, you're paying income taxes and social security taxes. You're just not receiving the benefits when you retire. That money is a big bonus for the federal government.

Ira Glass

In 2010, for instance, the Social Security Administration estimates 13 billion went into the social security trust fund from undocumented workers. And only $1 billion was paid out to them. So again, an undocumented poultry worker in Albertville pays the same taxes as anybody and doesn't qualify for most government benefits. And what that means is that their biggest cost to government, Rueben says-- in fact, the one way they cost more than other people-- is schools.

Kim Rueben

That's the big public service that they're using. Because they often have more kids than non-immigrant populations.

Ira Glass

Contrary to whatever stereotypes are out there, it's not a lot more kids-- 3/4 of a child more per couple than non-immigrant families in Alabama. But what that means for school costs when you run the numbers-- and Kim Rueben and her colleague Erin Huffer dug into the data on Albertville school costs to do that for us-- is that non-Latino taxpayers in Albertville are paying $272 every year in local taxes to cover those extra kids that their immigrant neighbors are enrolling in the Albertville city school system.

Kim and Erin also researched food stamps for us. That's the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. For all the complaints that we heard in Albertville about how, in the grocery store, you see Latina mothers using food stamps-- Teresa Ferguson, at one point, drove me to the big Foodland store so that I could witness this myself-- here are the facts on food stamps.

When Latino families moved into Albertville and the county that it's in-- Marshall County-- between 1990 and 2010, SNAP use did go up in Marshall County. Rueben says it doubled.

Kim Rueben

From 8% to 16%.

Ira Glass

But in the rest of Alabama, where there are hardly any immigrants, it went up way faster and way higher.

Kim Rueben

From 11% to 26%.

Ira Glass

So having more immigrants in Marshall County correlated with lower food stamp use, not higher, and fewer taxpayer dollars spent. But these individual spending programs don't get you to the big picture. And to get the big picture, I think that the most helpful chart in the huge National Academy of Sciences report is a table they call table 812.

Table 812-- its premise is, it says, OK, a new immigrant arrives in America tomorrow. What is everything that person is going to cost government at every level over the course of their entire lifetime, including what their kids costs and their grandkids? And then what is everything they and their kids and their grandkids are going to pay in taxes over that same period?

So this chart looks at everything-- all federal, state, and local taxes, all federal, state, and local government services over a person's lifetime-- 75 years. And what table 812 shows very clearly is that whether you get more from government or give more to government really depends on how educated you are. It shows that immigrants who have even a little bit of college pay in more than they take over the course of their lives. But immigrants like the ones in Albertville's poultry plants, who mostly do not have high school educations, they are the costliest to government.

Even in the rosiest scenario in this table, they, and their kids, and their grandkids, cost the government money over the course of 75 years. The author of this table-- this is a demographer named Gretchen Donehower-- did a calculation for us that specifically would apply to the undocumented population in Albertville-- that is, poultry plant workers who don't have a high school education and also don't have legit social security numbers. So they probably won't be collecting social security or Medicare in their old age. Those workers will cost the government $21,000.

So it's $21,000 over 75 years. That's what an undocumented immigrant in Albertville's chicken plants and their kids and grandkids cost federal, state, and local taxpayers over the course of the immigrant's entire life. Of course, how you think about that $21,000 depends on your values. Maybe you think that's worth it for the economic growth and whatever other contributions the immigrant and his family will make. Or maybe you don't.

But to put it that number in context, anyone in America who doesn't have a high school education is a net drain on government over the course of their lifetimes, on average. The NAS report includes data on this also. A native born American without a high school education will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than even a documented immigrant-- even somebody who collects old age benefits. If you didn't graduate high school, generally, you're just not earning enough to pay that much into the system.

Act 5

Ira Glass

Act five-- Today. By 2012, just a year after the anti-immigrants state law HB 56 went into effect, everything in town reversed course-- all that anti-immigrant politicking. HB 56 was gutted. Key portions were found unconstitutional by the courts.

Miki Meek

The immigrant families who moved away from Albertville-- most moved back. In 2012, the mayor and the city council came up for election again. And--

Newscaster 3

Albertville voters hit the reset button last night. Not a single person elected in 2008 was voted back into office.

Miki Meek

The mayor and four councilpeople-- all out. The city council since then has not spent its time trying to figure out how to control or deport the town's Latino residents. In fact, at their meetings, immigration doesn't come up. A councilman told us they consciously keep it off the table.

One sign of how things have changed is that the Trump administration is expanding the 287(g) program, which gives local police officers the power to do immigration enforcement, which Albertville sought for years. But they're not trying to get it anymore. Benny Womack, who was police chief during the most divisive years, said something we heard from a few people.

Benny Womack

I would say during that time period that we've all talked about here was growing pains for the city in a lot of respects. The city was in culture shock. I don't think it is so much anymore.

Miki Meek

The current mayor told us the city is now following the example set by the Albertville schools. And this is the single most surprising thing we found in Albertville-- was how the schools handled such a big population of immigrants. During the years the city council was picking fights with the city's Latino residents, right across the street, at the offices of the Albertville city schools, they were taking the exact opposite approach-- trying to integrate them into the community.

And they did an exceptionally competent job of it. At the very beginning, in the early '90s, when they had just a handful of Latino students, they hired a person whose job was to advocate for them and to make sure the schools accommodated them. In 1996, the school started pre-K in one of the Latino trailer parks. They got a grant for teachers to visit the parts of Mexico their students came from to see the conditions they were used to learning in.

At one point, the schools made the dramatic and difficult choice to stop pulling Latino kids out of class for separate language and other instruction. It took three or four years to fully put that into effect and retrain the teachers to completely include the Latino kids in their lessons. Today, the student population is nearly half Latino. And the Latino kids are integrated into the band, sports teams, activities, AP classes.

Girl

And we're going to take the arc sine of each of those to get the theta.

Ira Glass

This is a lab for AP physics. Four girls roll marbles down a slope and take measurements, three of them Latina. Right now, Latino kids make up 43% of the high school and about 1/3 of the students in AP classes-- so not fully representative quite yet but getting there.

Our coworker, Lilly Sullivan, attended high school with pretty much the same demographics as Albertville High School, and she was always one of the few Latinas in honors classes. And she visited five AP classes in Albertville, including this one. And what she saw kind of blew her mind. Right, Lilly?

Lilly Sullivan

Yeah. It was really great to see. I just couldn't have imagined this. This is Bessie Gaspar. She's a senior. She's 17. And she is in that lab group. She's pretty bookish-- glasses-wearing. And this is how she explains the social dynamic at school.

Bessie Gaspar

Well, this is kind of like a small community. So everybody's grown up with each other and knows each other. So there's nothing, like, really tense.

Lilly Sullivan

Bessie's dad came to Albertville to work in a chicken plant. So I know her mom's, like, migrant farmworker family. And so when I asked her-- you know, she's doing all these activities, and she's just rattling them off.

Bessie Gaspar

Clubs-- like, I'm president of HOSA. I'm the vice president of FBLA. (LAUGHING) I'm on the soccer team. HOSA is Health Occupation Students of America.

Lilly Sullivan

And I was just like, how did you know how to do this? How did you know about these programs and stuff? And then she just says, like, oh, well, I had this one teacher freshman year who pulled me into this club and another teacher pulled me into this club.

Bessie Gaspar

We had Mr. Bolding. He knew my dream of becoming a neurosurgeon, because I had admired Dr. Benjamin Carson for his surgery on the conjoined twins. And so he told me about HOSA. And so I joined.

Lilly Sullivan

And I was like, oh. There was no way she was going to slip through the cracks, you know? It was just obvious that, you know, she's a Latina, and her teachers still had really high expectations of her. And they just expected her to do well. And so she did.

Ira Glass

To be clear, the school has not eliminated the achievement gap between the Latino kids and the non-Latino kids. When kids enter a school system not speaking much English, that's notoriously difficult. And part of the gap is more about poverty than ethnicity.

But a statewide expert on testing in Alabama, Tom Spencer of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama in Birmingham, explained to me that Albertville's student population is one of the poorest in the state. But each year, a higher proportion of their kids meet state standards.

Tom Spencer

And when you put it in the context of poverty, they outscore where they'd be projected to score. They're actually significantly exceeding. And then when you get to the fact that they have a 95% graduation rate for Hispanics--

Ira Glass

That's actually a higher rate than the white kids, who are only 92%.

Tom Spencer

--they actually produced-- Albertville High School produced more Hispanic high school graduates than any other school in the state.

Ira Glass

And so what's that say to you?

Tom Spencer

It says to me that they're doing something right up there-- that they're closing gaps, and they're doing something impressive.

Miki Meek

So in this town where things got really ugly and heated for a while, the schools were a countervailing force-- the one place where people actually got to know one another. We met white parents who said their kids made friends, or they volunteered at the schools, and it changed how they viewed immigrants.

As for their Latino neighbors, I talked to lots of them about what it feels like in town right now. And mostly people said, I'm comfortable here. I made a life here. I like it.

People own homes, are settled into neighborhoods, have white friends. But that's not the same as feeling welcome, especially in the last two years, they say, with the rise of Donald Trump. Marshall County went for Donald Trump 83%-- and by the way, 71% for Roy Moore this week. Carlos, who was in our first episode, says you see it most at the store.

Carlos

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

Not so much with the younger generation, because they've gotten used to growing up around us, but with the older generation-- they look at us in a bad kind of way.

Miki Meek

As a school's migrant advocate, Judit Gay talks to lots of Latino families in town. And she summed up something I heard from a bunch of people. She says they don't care about trying to win over anyone who doesn't want them here.

Judit Gay

Like saying, well, I got a job here, you know? I'm sorry. I got a job, and I'm going to do it until they want me here.

Miki Meek

Until they want me here?

Judit Gay

That's what people used to say. Yes.

Ira Glass

In the beginning of our first program on Albertville, we had this quote from State Senator Scott Beason, the guy behind HB 56. He said back in 2011, if you allow illegal immigration to continue in your area, you will destroy yourself eventually. If you don't believe illegal immigration will destroy our community, go check out parts of Alabama around Albertville.

But Albertville was not destroyed. In fact, by lots of measures, it's thriving, with Hispanic businesses all over town. Main Street's coming back, retail box stores moving in. Local sales tax revenues are on the rise. They just spent millions building a beautiful new high school, and they're in the middle of spending more millions on a big rec center.

As we reported last week, immigrants did not take jobs from American workers, but, apparently, created lots of jobs. We asked Scott Beason about how it all worked out.

Scott Beason

I'm glad that things are going well for them now. But I still believe that you can't just allow unbridled illegal immigration into one little town or whatever, even though things have turned out pretty positive for Albertville so many years later.

Ira Glass

What do you think the lesson of the town is?

Scott Beason

I think if we're going to learn anything, or I'd like something to be remembered about Albertville, it's that people in Alabama, people in Albertville, folks in the south-- they're good folks. And even when they have issues with an influx of folks who are from different countries or whatever, eventually, over time, we're very welcoming. But that would not make me want any other community to have to go through the same things that Albertville did just because 20 years later, well, it seems OK now.

Ira Glass

Talking to over 100 people in town, it's not true the town was welcoming. It's more like they fought it at every level-- in the city council, at the state level with HB 56. And they failed. And only after they failed did they decide to take another path-- took a cue from the people who actually were welcoming-- the schools.

Miki Meek

The anti-immigration activist Kris Kobach has said that in the 2000s, Alabama was a laboratory for the rest of the country and a model. And while the crackdown he and Jeff Sessions and others tried to engineer in the poultry towns around the state didn't pan out, they all moved on to try again-- this time from Washington, DC.

The woman who used to bring politicians into Albertville, Teresa Ferguson, told us she stopped organizing in town long ago. It's not needed now. Because, she said, their guy is in the White House. She's counting on him, she told us, to set things right.

[MARCHING BAND PLAYING]

Ira Glass

Ladies and gentlemen, the pride of Albertville, the Albertville High School Aggie band. They will be performing in the Rose Parade in California on New Year's Day.

Credits

Ira Glass

Today's program was produced and reported by Miki Meek, Lilly Sullivan, Diane Wu, and me. Our interpreter was Gabriella Munoz. Original music by Marcus Thorne Bagala.

Our staff includes Susan Burton, Zoe Chace, Dana Chivvis, Sean Cole, Whitney Dangerfield, Neil Drumming, Stephanie Foo, Kimberly Henderson, David Kestenbaum, Jonathan Menjivar, BA Parker, Robyn Semien, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, and Julie Whitaker. Our senior producer is Brian Reed.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, ThisAmericanLife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Tony Malatia. You know, he just saw the new Fast and Furious movie-- was not into it at all.

Interpreter

They would just, like, drive around, like, without knowing absolutely anything-- totally like idiots.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

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