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Washington Post: Farmers in Alabama Are In Revolt Against the State’s Over-The-Top Immigration Law

by Mahwish Khan on 11/04/2011 at 10:47am

Agriculture workersA scathing editorial, How Alabama’s immigration law is crippling its farmsin today’s Washington Post blasts Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law – and the failure of Congress to find a path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. 

First, Alabama:

FARMERS IN ALABAMA are in revolt against the state’s over-the-top immigration law, which is designed to hound illegal immigrants so that they move elsewhere. As it happens, a substantial portion of farm workers there, as in other states, are undocumented. In the farmers’ view, the law is depriving them of steady, experienced labor — and threatening to deal a lethal blow to crops throughout the state.

The uproar has exposed political fault lines within the Republican Party, whose vows of support for business have run headlong into its crusade to drive away illegal immigrants, on whom agribusiness relies. It’s also laying bare 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.

The editorial also addresses the reality that anti-immigrant lawmakers choose to ignore:

Of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, some 7 million are in the job force. The idea that they can be deported or replaced en masse withjobless U.S. workers is far-fetched. That’s the message that Alabama farmers have been giving their elected leaders, so far to little avail.

Alabama lawmakers 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 ill-suited and mostly unwilling to do the back-breaking, poorly paid 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.

And this is a national issue that Congress refuses to address:

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. But the workers required are already in the United States. Congress and the federal government have failed to establish an adequate supply of visas for the immigrant labor drawn here by the prospect of jobs. The right thing to do is to fix the problem by enabling those workers to legalize their status and put them on a path to citizenship.

That is the right thing to do. But we aren’t expecting Rep. Lamar Smith to do anything about it. His goal is mass deportation, which would wreak the kind of havoc Alabama is experiencing on the entire country.

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