Hispanic families have been fleeing Alabama in droves and thousands of children have been too terrorized to show up for school in the wake of a federal judge’s decision last week to allow the state’s harshest-in-the-nation anti-immigrant law could go into effect.
No group has been more outraged and vocally opposed to the law than Alabama’s farmers, who say that without the immigrant farm labor they depend on, they will soon be forced out of business. The exodus of immigrants has already created a labor shortage, and farmers say crops are rotting in the field and they are in danger of losing their farms. As in many other states, undocumented workers are the backbone of Alabama’s agriculture industry.
But farmers’ pleas fell on deaf ears when they spoke recently to the bill’s sponsor, Alabama state Sen. Scott Beason (R). Beason stood firmly behind the law, arguing that it would help free up jobs for Alabamians in a state suffering from high unemployment. The farmers were quick to tell him that immigrants are the only ones willing to do this kind of back-breaking field labor. One farmer even challenged Beason to try the work himself if he was so confident immigrants could be easily replaced:
Tomato farmer Brian Cash said the migrant workers who would normally be on Chandler Mountain have gone to other states with less restrictive laws.
After talking with farmers at the tomato shed, Beason visited the Smith family’s farm. Leroy Smith, Chad Smith’s father, challenged the senator to pick a bucket full of tomatoes and experience the labor-intensive work.
Beason declined but promised to see what could be done to help farmers while still trying to keep illegal immigrants out of Alabama.Smith threw down the bucket he offered Beason and said, “There, I figured it would be like that.”
Farmers have every reason to be angry — many of them say that because of Beason’s law they’ll be out of business by next year. Chad Smith said his family would normally have 12 trucks working the fields on Monday, but only had the workers for three. “The tomatoes are rotting on the vine, and there is very little we can do,” he said, estimating that his family could lose up to $150,000 this season. Likewise, Lana Boatwright said she and her husband had used the same crews for more than a decade, but only eight of the 48 workers they needed showed up after the law took effect.
Americans for Immigration Reform predicted in 2008 that if all undocumented immigrants were removed from Alabama, the state would lose $2.6 billion in economic activity, $1.1 billion in gross state products, and approximately 17,819 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time. Experts estimate that around 75 percent of the nation’s seasonal agricultural workers are unauthorized immigrants. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 95,000 unauthorized immigrants worked in Alabama in 2009 and 2010, making up about 4.2 percent of the labor force.
Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law allows police to racially profile and pull over anyone they suspect might be in the country illegally, and blatantly violates children’s constitutional right to an education by forcing schools to check children’s immigration status before they can be enrolled.