Alabama immigration law H.B. 56 is serving the purpose of the lawmakers’ intent—driving many of the state’s estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants to pack up and head out of the state. The result is that many farms are left without the labor necessary to harvest the crops.
A substantial portion of farm workers there, as in other states, are undocumented. Alabama lawmakers who support the law insist that, by driving undocumented workers out, they will open jobs for Americans; the unemployment rate in the state is nearly 10 percent. But farmers say that jobless U.S. workers, mostly inexperienced in field work and concentrated in and around cities, are mostly unwilling to do the work required to plant and harvest tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other crops. Farmers also say that, if they were to raise wages to make the jobs more attractive, as advocates for the new law suggest, crop prices would soar, making Alabama produce uncompetitive.
Many farmers state that if the immigration law is going to stand, legislators need to come up with solutions to prevent local agribusiness from going under. The debate is also raging in neighboring Georgia where the Georgia Department of Agriculture reports that this year’s harvest was short 11,000 workers, which farming advocates say was the result of immigrants leaving the state.
The uproar over the effect of these immigration laws on farms has exposed the nation’s hypocrisy over “unskilled” immigrants, whose legal entry into the country is blocked in most cases even though their labor remains much in demand. Congress and the federal government have simply failed to establish an adequate supply of visas for the immigrant labor drawn to the United States by the jobs. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), are suggesting the creation of a guest-worker program to recruit sufficient numbers of farm hands and other “unskilled” workers. In talking with the Birmingham News, Alabama state Rep. Jeremy Oden (R) said one solution was a temporary-worker program that would allow workers from outside the US to work here seasonally. Others say that the workers required are already in the United States and a more logical solution would be to allow them to legalize their status and provide a path for citizenship with various proposed requirements.