'I decided I was going to be the mayor for everybody'

This, from CNN, is a beautiful story about an impressive man, Paul Bridges, mayor of tiny Uvalda, Georgia: “Republican mayor in the South becomes unlikely advocate for immigrants.”

Bridges is an unlikely soldier on the front lines of the nation’s immigration debate. The 58-year-old native Southerner describes himself as a conservative Republican. For years, he knew little about immigrants but didn’t lack strong opinions about them: “They were just low-class people,” he recalled. “They weren’t even able to speak English.”

Bridges’ English is laced with a folksy drawl; he tosses out phrases such as “heck no” and “that just flew all over me.” But he can switch into the singsongy Spanish of a Mexican farmworker. And he counts immigrants among his closest friends.

Bridges is one of more than a dozen plaintiffs suing Georgia and its governor, trying to stop the state’s new immigration law. They won a reprieve Monday when a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law scheduled to go into effect July 1.

… Bridges is waging a deeply personal battle.

Enforcement of the Georgia law could put him in prison and tear apart the families of some of his closest friends.

In his City Hall office, just a few feet away from a handbook for Georgia mayors and council members, he keeps a glass paperweight engraved with a Bible verse.

A family of illegal immigrants gave it to him for Christmas.

What’s most inspiring to me about this story is Bridges’ account of how his views on immigration came to change. This is a conversion story, a personal testimony, the story of a man being born again:

Bridges knew immigrants were a growing labor force on South Georgia’s farms, but he never heard or saw them.

That changed one afternoon in 1999 when he was looking for lasagna ingredients at a Soperton grocery store.

A brown-skinned couple caught his eye. From the way they leaned toward each other, he knew they were deeply in love. Words tumbled from their mouths — a series of sounds without meaning for Bridges. He listened anyway, wishing he could understand.

He spotted them walking outside the store, plastic grocery bags in hand. “Do ya’ll wanna lift?” he asked. They looked at him quizzically, so he tried again, “Do ya’ll wanna ride?”

The couple and another man piled into his car, pointing the way to their destination a few miles away: two rundown trailers in the middle of a cotton field. Bridges dropped them off and went home to make dinner.

But he couldn’t get what he’d seen out of his mind. Nearly 30 people lived in the two trailers.

A few hours later, Bridges went back to the cotton field, carrying lasagna and his daughter’s Spanish-English dictionary. It was the beginning of a whirlwind journey into a new world that would change his life.

People he had never noticed embraced him. They taught him new words, served him soup and showed him the pictures of their children taped to the trailer’s walls.

“It made me realize that I need to take another look at myself. … It really brought out the ‘me’ in me,” he said.

Read the whole thing.

Paul Bridges is facing an uphill battle against overwhelming odds in fighting Georgia’s current wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, but read the whole thing. He’s stronger than anyone he’s up against.

  • ConfusedReaderofComments

    Compared to a celebrity.  I like it.  :)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I seem to recall some talk that the large hadron collider was going to create a black hole, and we went along with that. SCIENCE!!!

    That’s not an apt metaphor, since there weren’t any respectable scientists who legitimately thought that was going to happen; the only people who proclaimed it were luddites and fearmongers who didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

    Actually, upon reflection, that is an entirely apt metaphor.

  • Tonio

    if people are let indiscriminately into the nation

    (rolls eyes) No one is advocating that. You’re the only one talking about it. And “an inherently disorderly people” sounds very much like an ethnic euphemism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    @Geds:  Wheaton was its own special kind of weird, wasn’t it? But I’m grateful I grew up there, because I doubt that I’d have been an atheist for the last 23 years or so without seeing so many different horrific perversions of what Christianity was supposed to be.

  • Anonymous

    @caryjamesbond:disqus :

    I am da LOL!

  • http://twitter.com/celesteh Les Hutchins

    Actually, I would very much like to see open borders.  Yes, this would lead to a lot of economic migration, but right now the way borders are enforced, capital (and jobs) can cross them very easily, but people can not.  Most immigration comes from countries that are having economic upheaval.  Countries with stable middle classes, even poorer countries, send out far fewer immigrants because most people like to be near their families and speak their native language.

    The US is not entirely innocent in regards to the economic upheaval in our hemisphere.  If we’re going to take away so many resources from the Americas, we should allow their people to follow.

  • Tonio

    If we’re going to take away so many resources from the Americas, we should allow their people to follow.

    No disagreement in principle. Perhaps the US has a responsibility to reduce the amount of resources it takes away from those other countries. Or pay them more for those resources. Or at the bare minimum, help stabilize the economies when they are in upheaval.

    Part of my point is that the opponents are peddling a ridiculous straw man, defining “open borders” as anyone being able to cross with no questions asked. There’s a lot about the current system that’s appallingly inhumane and needs to be changed. Unfortunately, I doubt that any migrant labor system can be made anything close to humane, simply because the power disparity is so great. My point is that any immigration reform is futile without a long-term effort at building stable middle classes in the other countries. But listening to the current crop of GOP contenders, all their proposals would further the decimation of the middle class in this country.

  • Anonymous

    Only because he is directly affected.  One of the biggest difference between Republican and Democratic politics is that the former lacks empathy, and lacks the ability to place themselves in another’s shoes.  Once you realize this, it will become obvious in every story you read.  Republican politicians only fight for things that affect them directly.

  • Anonymous

    Have you ever jumped a traffic light?  You are an illegal citizen.

    You shouldn’t be allowed to vote, or receive benefits from the government, and should probably be imprisoned.

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