Alabama Doesn’t Learn From Georgia: Immigration Law Harms Disaster Relief

After tornados wreaked havoc across Alabama on April 27, killing 238 people and causing over $2 billion in damages, rebuilding became a priority for the areas affected. But Alabama’s new strict immigration law may wreak havoc on the rebuilding effort and the estimated 51,700 jobs such an effort will create. The “strongest immigration bill in the country,” which Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) signed on June 9, won’t take effect until September, but businesses and communities are already seeing a mass exodus of undocumented workers:

“That’s what Ever Duarte, head of the city’s Hispanic soccer league, predicts after losing a third of his teams in a week. “They’re leaving now, right now,” says Duarte, 36, during a pause in a pickup soccer game. “I know people who are packing up tonight. They don’t want to wait to see what happens.” Two weeks ago, he says, his league had 12 teams. “Last week, it was eight.”

Undocumented workers are fleeing the state to avoid the new anti-immigrant climate sure to be created by the new law. Under the legislation’s auspices, any individual that provides an illegal immigrant with a job, a place to stay, or even a ride can be prosecuted by the state.

Although the funding for the law has not yet been procured, the threat is still enough to send immigrant workers out of the state in droves. And unfortunately for the disaster-stricken residents of Tuscaloosa and the surrounding counties, “Hispanic workers, documented and undocumented, dominate anything to do with masonry, concrete, framing, roofing, and landscaping,” local contractor Bob McNelly said.

This looming disaster for the Alabama construction industry follows closely on the heels of a dire labor shortage in Georgia’s agricultural sector, which is attributed to the state’s strict new immigration law that takes effect today. Around 11,000 jobs have gone unfilled, even though the state’s unemployment rate is above the national average at 9.8 percent, and the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association has estimated that around $300 million in profits have been left to rot in the fields.

Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, describes his state’s labor shortage as “unprecedented” and expresses amazement that Alabama would pass such a similar immigration law after seeing its economic consequences across the state line. “It was like, ‘Good Lord, you people can’t be helped. Have you all not been paying attention?'” Tolar said. “As we say in the South, bless their hearts.”

At a time in which states cannot afford to spend money on anti-immigrant enforcement and industries are struggling to get back on their feet, GOP lawmakers are continuing to ignore the real economic impact of pandering to their xenophobia.

Sarah Bufkin