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Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam Warns Against Anti-Immigration Policies

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florida orangesYesterday, former Republican congressman and current Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam criticized the harsh anti-immigration laws passed in neighboring states Alabama and Georgia, pointing out that the laws are already having real economic consequences and arguing that Florida show not follow this path. 

Speaking at a citrus industry conference, Putnam said, “Thank God for Georgia and Alabama because they’ve given us examples of real-world consequences of these mistaken policies.”  Putnam also said in regards to a potential enforcement-only immigration law in Florida, “There’s just no good news here…The best news would be if nothing happens…Because of the work done last year, I think this issue is taking a back seat in the Legislature, and I do not anticipate it taking such a large role next year.”  According to The Ledger, Putnam also noted that the arguments that alternatives such as unemployed U.S. workers or prison labor will make up for the loss of immigrant harvest workers has not come to pass in Alabama and Georgia.

Business owners in Alabama and Georgia are facing real-world consequences because of their states’ anti-immigration laws, and politicians need to pay attention.  As Commissioner Putnam points out, these laws are devastating key industries like agriculture and restaurants.  Florida lawmakers would be wise to learn from their neighbors.  Instead of passing another state immigration law, they should push the federal government to enact a real immigration solution.

Consider the following consequences being felt today in Georgia and Alabama:

New Estimates of Financial Toll & Damage to Businesses in Alabama: A report released by the Center for American Progress this week highlights the economic damage Alabama’s law is wreaking on the state, assessing the financial hit to the state to be hundreds of millions of dollars lost in tax and farm revenue.  According to Alabama farmer, Chad Smith, he’s lost $300,000 in revenue “because of labor shortages in the wake of HB 56.”  Additionally, the law is tying up businesses with burdensome and costly new requirements.  The Birmingham News reports that:

Larry Dixon, the executive director of the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners, said the board is working to comply with the law, but it will create a great deal of additional work.  It may also hamper the board’s ability to renew licenses online, which now accounts for 75 percent to 80 percent of renewals, because it doesn’t currently have a way to verify documents electronically.

Continued Toll on Agriculture and Restaurant Industry in Georgia: Representatives from two of the industries most devastated by Georgia’s immigration law testified at a Georgia State Senate hearing yesterday about the damage to their bottom lines.  Karen Bremer, executive director of the 16,000 restaurant strong Georgia Restaurant Association, stated that “People applying for jobs just aren’t qualified.”  As the Florida Times-Union noted, 22% of Georgia restaurants said applications for available jobs were down and “many restaurant owners were closing off part of their dining rooms or taking items off their menus” as a result of the labor shortage.  Meanwhile, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association also testified against the law.  According to a study from the University of Georgia on behalf of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Georgia farmers had 11,000 jobs that went unfilled during the summer harvest, costing them $150 million.  Meanwhile, Paul Bridges, the mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, noted that the law is “destroying Georgia’s economy” and pointed out how as a result of the immigrant labor shortage, farmers in his area were switching to crops that can be harvested by machine, despite those crops bringing in less money.

Republican State Senators Finally Admit the Alabama Law Isn’t Working as Promised: Leading Alabama Republicans in the state Senate are finally admitting that the law is having some detrimental effects and needs adjusting.  Republican State Senator Gerald Dial said of proposed changes to the law, “It’s just common sense. Let’s step up and say we’ve made some mistakes.  It doesn’t weaken the bill.”  Dial also said, according to the Birmingham News, that “he doesn’t believe the immigration law would have passed if senators had had more time to fully understand its ramifications.”  Additionally, Republican State Senator Jabo Waggoner, the new chair of the Senate Rules Committee after colleagues removed immigration law architect Senator Scott Beason from the chairmanship, said of the professional licensing provision in the bill, “This would be a very cumbersome requirement…I think that is one of the unintended consequences.  We are looking at some changes and that will need to be one of them.”  Senator Waggoner also said that he has been hearing from many Alabama businesses having difficulty finding skilled workers and said, “People that are in the masonry business, you can’t just hire an unemployed person and tell him to go lay bricks.”  The Birmingham News also characterizes Senator Waggoner as stating that, “The aim of the bill – to put Alabamians to work in positions that had been occupied by undocumented workers – was laudable, but not practical in all instances.”

According to Lynn Tramonte, our Deputy Director:

The experiences of farmers and other business owners in Alabama and Georgia should be a wake-up call to Republicans in Washington, and a warning to leaders in other states.  State-based crackdowns are not the solution; common sense, federal immigration reform is.

For more resources on Alabama, view:

The 10 Numbers You Need to Know About Alabama’s Anti-Immigrant Law

(Center for American Progress)

Ten Things to Know About Alabama’s New Immigration Law

(America’s Voice Education Fund)

Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice