Political Insider

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Former mayor of Uvalda, Ga., to receive JFK ‘Profile in Courage’ award

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation announced the two recipients of its annual Profile in Courage awards this afternoon.

One is well known – former President George H.W. Bush, who will be honored for breaking his no-new-taxes pledge to cement a bipartisan budget deal in 1990 and put his re-election chances in jeopardy. President Bill Clinton was the result.

But the bigger surprise is Paul Bridges, the former mayor of Uvalda, Ga., population 592 – give or take a few souls.

My AJC colleague Jeremy Redmond offers these details:

Bridges, the former mayor of the small, rural town of Uvalda in Montgomery County, served as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Georgia’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.

A Republican, Bridges argued he could face prosecution in connection with the law for transporting immigrants without legal status to churches and doctor appointments as he had done in the past. Federal courts ultimately struck down parts of the law and upheld others, including a provision giving police the option to check the immigration status of certain suspects.

“I’m just so very honored and humbled,” said Bridges, who did not seek reelection when his mayoral term ended last year. “I only speak the truth on the immigration issues. It doesn’t take courage to speak the truth.”

Uvalda is in onion country, south of I-16 and Vidalia. Here’s a slice from a 2011 column on Bridges and his community:

The primary argument for Bridges’ inclusion in the lawsuit is that he could run afoul of Georgia’s new law, which forbids “knowingly” transporting or harboring illegal immigrants. “Some of them I know are citizens — very young citizens. I’m not sure about their parents. I’m not sure about their grandparents,” Bridges, 59, said during a state Capitol news conference.

(The authors of the legislation say the new law does not apply to Georgians who commit occasional acts of kindness. But this is why we have judges and courthouses.)

Yet Bridges has a more emotional reason for joining the legal action. He talks of Uvalda’s many blended families — migrants who have married legal residents over the years, couples who have produced children.

“For instance, the grandmother who has papers. The daughter doesn’t have papers. The grandson is a citizen,” the mayor said. What happens, he asked, when a supporting husband is sent back to Mexico, leaving a dependent wife and child? Both are likely to end up on welfare.

Late last month, Bridges called for a “summit,” held in the town’s community center, to discuss the situation. Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, was there. So was state Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia. Both men voted for HB 87.

There was general agreement on what has produced mixed families in the area. Seasonal harvests — onions, in particular — once required a short-term labor force that quickly moved on. But over the years, farmers have expanded their winter crop production.They’ve added turnips, collards, but especially cabbage.

Winter crops create the need for a year-round labor force, and vice versa. Year-round living leads to long-term relationships, and relationships create family trees.

Entire cabbage-patch families, if you will.

“Migrants used to travel around, but now that we created this produce market, they’re staying all year,” Williams said during that meeting.

Both Bush and Bridges will be honored at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on May 4.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.