As Republican candidates descend on agriculture and immigrant-rich California for their second debate, you don’t have to wonder what kind of effects Donald Trump’s radical immigration “plan” would have on the state and elsewhere — all you have to do is look at Alabama.
The draconian, Trump-style HB 56 — implemented in 2011 by state legislators under the guise of a “jobs bill” — was widely considered to be the harshest, anti-immigrant law in the nation:
HB 56 criminalized nearly every aspect of an undocumented immigrant’s life. It made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to work or to seek work, required police to arrest anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, made it illegal to rent an apartment to an undocumented immigrant, and so forth.
The measure even required K-12 public schools to keep tabs on the legal status of students. It was reminiscent of the Pete Wilson-approved Proposition 187 that eventually led to the near-obliteration of California’s Republican Party at the hands of angry Latino and immigrant voters.
Alabama’s farmers — knowing that their industry depended on the backbreaking sweat of a labor force where 80% of the workers are undocumented — famously pleaded with state legislators to put a halt to the proposition.
But, lawmakers insisted they knew better and denied them, saying that the law would instead open up agricultural jobs for US-born Americans looking for work. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Scores of the state’s 120,000 undocumented immigrant families, fearing crackdowns and separation, fled the state in droves as the state’s crops rotted in the fields.
The US-born workers that lawmakers claimed would show up to replace undocumented immigrants were no-shows, and the ones who did make it to a field for work were ready to call it quits on the first day. They couldn’t do the work that undocumented immigrants — demonized by legislators — could do. Plain and simple.
As for the immigrants who did stay, life became a matter of hiding just to survive and stay safely together:
Many have packed up and fled in terror to nearby and not-so-nearby states. Others prefer to weather the storm by staying as far underground as possible, leaving home only when strictly necessary. Others have chosen to take their children out of school, to avoid the risk that they’ll be asked about their immigration status.
The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) says that a significant portion of the hundreds of calls and appointments they’re fielding on a daily basis come from parents asking what will happen to their kids if they are deported.
“They’re looking to obtain power of attorney so that someone else will be able to make decisions regarding their children or property in case of their deportation,” explained Victor Spezzini, lead organizer at HICA.
The human cost and devastation was immeasurable. But the pain inflicted on the state’s economy at the hands of legislators certainly wasn’t. A year after implementation, Alabama and nearby Georgia — also home to similar anti-immigrant law — suffered economic losses to the tune of millions:
According to the Tennessean, economists in the two states estimate Georgia’s and Alabama’s economies lost at least $115 million as a result of their anti-immigrant law:
Georgia economists estimate that their state lost $75 million from its $578 million agriculture industry as berries, bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, watermelons and the state’s famed Vidalia onions were left to rot.
Alabama’s initial estimate is $40 million lost, and Sam Addy, an economist at the University of Alabama, said that figure likely understates the damage.
“Today there is no-one left,” described the Guardian in one haunting piece. “The fields around [an Alabama farmer’s] colonial-style farmhouse on top of a mountain are empty of pickers and the tomato plants are withering on the vine as far as the eye can see. The sweet, slightly acrid smell of rotting tomato flesh hangs in the air.”
In another piece, the AP once described an incident involving a furious farmer who confronted a Republican supporter of the measure:
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 famers 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 law ultimately died a quick death after the state agreed to settle the last lawsuit against HB 56 in 2013. But, Republicans didn’t appear to learn any lessons, because the party — now led by Donald Trump — is proposing to enact plans to evict undocumented immigrants on a national scale.
As Republican candidates gather in California tonight — “the agricultural powerhouse of the United States”, where a 70% immigrant workforce produces more than half of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the nation — Alabama should serve as a warning about the dangerous effects Alabama-on-steroids could have.