Alabama Farmers Denounce Anti-Immigration Law – Say It Will Cost Crops and Millions
Wait, wait – didn’t we hear this from Georgia and the other states considering similar measures? Of course we did, but state legislators often play deaf while the states go for broke, while going broke. – Axel
GOOD HOPE, Ala. (AP) — Farmers in one of Alabama’s leading agricultural areas asked legislators Monday to make emergency changes to the state’s tough new law against illegal immigration, saying millions of dollars of crops are at risk in coming weeks because of a sudden lack of hands for harvest.
The lawmakers said they can’t do anything to the law right now, and it may be months before it can be changed.
About 50 growers packed a truck-stop dining room 45 miles north of Birmingham. They pleaded with three north Alabama lawmakers to amend the law and save what they called the lifeblood of the state’s agriculture operations: The Hispanic workers who pick vegetables, gather chickens from poultry houses, pull sweet potatoes out of the ground and make the cardboard boxes that hold produce.
Those workers are leaving the state because they are intimidated by the law and without them, acres and acres of crops will be wasted, the farmers said.
Kim Haynes said he’s lost about half the workers he needs to gather his 25-acre sweet potato crop. He fears the rest of his Hispanic employees will leave should a federal judge let the law take effect in coming days.
“There will be no crops harvested in an effectual manner without them,” said Haynes, of Cullman.
The law makes it a crime to employ or assist an illegal immigrant in remaining in the country. It allows police to jail people if they can’t prove they are in the United States legally, and the farmers said many Spanish-speaking workers who are in the country both legally and illegally have moved from Alabama in fear.
The gathered farmers told lawmakers they’d like to use U.S.-born citizens for the work, but few are willing to sweat in the fields and get dirty even though wages are usually well above minimum wage.
“We use Hispanic labor because we have no other choice. We can’t find anyone else who will do this work,” said Jeremy Calvert of Bremen. Most of the farmers were from Cullman County, but several came to the meeting from elsewhere in north Alabama.
State Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, said GOP Gov. Robert Bentley could issue an executive order changing part of the law, or Bentley could include an amendment to the immigration law in the call for a special legislative session that could be scheduled in coming weeks to help resolve a budget crisis in Jefferson County.
Regardless, state Rep. Jeremy Oden said nothing can happen until U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn rules on lawsuits seeking to overturn the law. The judge temporarily blocked it from taking effect earlier this month, but she said she would issue a final ruling by Sept. 28 that could clear the way for the tough legislation.
“The bill is in place until the judge makes her ruling,” said Oden, R-Cullman.
Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Wayne Walker said state officials fear it could cost tens of millions of dollars in losses if farmers can’t find enough help for harvesting. Tomato growers in east Alabama already are suffering because the law scared away the people who normally pick their crops, he said.
Supporters of the Republican-sponsored immigration bill say it was meant to protect jobs for legal residents, and conservative supporters plan a rally in favor of the bill in Birmingham on Tuesday.