All the way back to the proclamation of the “New South” in the late 19th century, Southern business leaders have tried to project an image of their region’s openness and progressiveness to attract and keep investment, while a range of other constituencies, most notably the forces opposing civil rights, have pushed a harsher brand of conservatism. The struggle is in the news again this week as North Carolina’s once business-friendly governor, Pat McCrory, signed a bill overturning any local anti-discrimination protections that gay, lesbian, and transgender people had enjoyed in his state. Meanwhile, his counterpart in Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal, vetoed a “religious liberty” bill that would have given faith-based organizations explicit permission to discriminate against LGBT people. In both cases, the measures pit religious conservatives against business leaders who feared the loss of investments and events if their states were perceived as intolerant.
Corazón de Dixie shows how this dynamic played out in the battle over immigration in the South since the 1980s, in which the region’s initial pro-immigrant conservatism (driven by both business and Evangelicals) has more recently given way to widespread GOP support for anti-immigrant measures in the region.
Perhaps the most significant policy that reflected the earlier, more “pragmatic” attitude toward the region’s immigrant newcomers was the fact that Southern states were much more likely to license undocumented immigrants than Western ones (including my home state of California) both before and, for a brief period, after 9/11. A key source for me in exploring this issue in Corazón de Dixie has been Wayne Hurder, former director of licensing for the state of North Carolina, who was a protector of sorts for this policy in his state for many years. In response to my barrage of questions, Wayne has written up an incredible 75-page account, the most thorough coverage of the issue that exists by far. He calls it “Driving Lessons – NC Driver Licenses for Unauthorized Immigrants: How they got it, How they lost it, & How they might get it back” and it is linked here. It is a must-read for advocates anywhere who are working on the immigrant driver’s license issue in their states.