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Anti-Immigrant Laws in Alabama, Georgia Lead to Labor Shortages, Farmer Uncertainty About Crops

by Van Le on 01/23/2012 at 6:26pm

georgia onions“This is a jobs bill,” they said.  “This is a jobs-creation bill for Americans,” they said.

Such were the arguments that Alabama Senator Scott Beason (R) and Rep. Micky Hammon (R) made last year before passing their notoriously anti-immigrant state law, HB 56.

“Opponents of the law like to say that Alabamians won’t work the same jobs illegal immigrants are working,” said another supporter, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh.  “That’s simply not true.”

As it turns out: it was true.  Some farmers in Alabama and Georgia (which has a local anti-immigrant law of its own) are now facing such dire labor shortages as a result of these laws that they have begun changing their plans for planting and harvesting crops.  From the Washington Post this weekend:

Some farmers said they might reduce the number of acres they plant or shift to less labor-intensive crops, while others are bracing for higher labor prices and have turned to new recruiting tools to attract workers.

Georgia and Alabama have approved laws that have tough enforcement provisions that farmers say are scaring migrant workers away from the states.

Since the laws were approved last year, farmers in both states have reported labor shortages because migrant workers aren’t showing up and they say they can’t find other workers to fill the jobs.

Farmers and state officials have said that some produce was left to rot in the field last year because there weren’t enough workers to help with the harvest.

Farmers have claimed not enough U.S. citizens want the jobs, but some said the issue is actually that producers won’t offer a high enough wage to attract legal workers.

Brett Hall, Alabama’s deputy agriculture commissioner, said nurseries across south Alabama are trying to find workers to fill about 2,000 jobs ahead of the spring growing season. Many nursery growers are staffing job fairs in hopes of attracting employees, he said.

Other growers aren’t ordering seeds or new equipment because they anticipate a labor shortage, he said.

“Before this law, migrant workers would just show up. They knew when they were needed,” Hall said. “That’s not happening anymore.”

“Garsh, who could have predicted this?” snarked Joe Jervis at joe.my.god.

Who, indeed?  It’s not as if there have been countless articles and commentaries that have been warning legislators for months about what would happen if a state tried to evict a hardworking population that did the jobs the rest of its residents didn’t want to.

It’s not as if there haven’t been analyses of how many workers these farms are short (11,000 in Georgia) or how much money these laws have cost (“millions” in unharvested and rotting crops).

It’s not as if farmers have been begging legislators to repeal the law in order to give them a chance to preserve their livelihood.  Remember this episode?

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.”

The new legislative session in Alabama begins February 7.  You can be sure we’ll be there to renew the fight against HB 56, forcing legislators to reap what they’ve sown.

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