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.
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.