published Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Alabama loses workers as immigration law takes effect

Juan Gonzalez sorts tomatoes in Steele, Ala. Only a few of farm owner Leroy Smith's field workers showed up for work after Alabama's new immigration law took effect last week. Hispanic workers and their children are fleeing Alabama or going into hiding because of the state's strict new immigration law, which could deal a significant blow to the state's economy and may slow the rebuilding of Tuscaloosa and other tornado-damaged cities. The impact is being felt from construction sites to farms and schools, and it's driven by fears of being jailed and held without bond if police should catch them without the proper documentation.
Juan Gonzalez sorts tomatoes in Steele, Ala. Only a few of farm owner Leroy Smith's field workers showed up for work after Alabama's new immigration law took effect last week. Hispanic workers and their children are fleeing Alabama or going into hiding because of the state's strict new immigration law, which could deal a significant blow to the state's economy and may slow the rebuilding of Tuscaloosa and other tornado-damaged cities. The impact is being felt from construction sites to farms and schools, and it's driven by fears of being jailed and held without bond if police should catch them without the proper documentation.
Photo by Associated Press.

By PHILLIP RAWLS, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s strict new immigration law may be backfiring. Intended to force illegal workers out of jobs, it is also driving away many construction workers, roofers and field hands in the country legally who do backbreaking jobs that Americans generally won’t.

The vacancies have created a void that will surely deal a blow to the state’s economy and could slow the rebuilding of Tuscaloosa and other tornado-damaged cities.

Employers believe they can carry on because of the dismal economy, but when things do turn around, they worry there won’t be anyone around to hire.

Rick Pate, the owner of a commercial landscaping company in Montgomery, lost two of his most experienced workers, who were in the country legally. He spent thousands of dollars training them to install irrigation systems at places like the Hyundai plant.

“They just feel like there is a negative atmosphere for them here. They don’t feel welcome. I don’t begrudge them. I’d feel nervous, too,” Pate said.

While it’s not clear how many of an estimated 185,000 Hispanic people in the state have fled, one estimate figured as much one-fourth of the commercial building work force had left since the law was upheld last week, said Bill Caton, president of Associated General Contractors of Alabama. Commercial construction is a more than $7 billion-a-year industry in Alabama.

Legislators said the law would help legal residents suffering from nearly 10 percent unemployment.

One of the bill’s authors, Republican Sen. Scott Beason, said he expected short-term problems, but he has received “thank you” calls from two people who replaced illegal immigrants who fled their jobs. Beason predicts that trickle will become a rush.

“We have the best law in the country and I stand by what we’ve done,” Beason said.

Some farmers disagreed.

On Chandler Mountain in north Alabama, tomato farmer Lana Boatwright said only eight of the 48 Hispanic workers she needed for harvest showed up after the law took effect. Those who did were frightened.

“My husband and I take them to the grocery store at night and shop for them because they are afraid they will be arrested,” she said.

Farmer Chad Smith said his family farm stands to lose up to $150,000 because there are not enough workers to pick tomatoes spoiling in the fields.

“We will be lucky to be in business next year,” he said.

The financial toll will vary by area, and experts said it’s too early to make predictions.

The law allows police to detain people indefinitely if they are suspected of being in the country illegally and requires schools to check the status of new students when they enroll. Those elements make it perhaps the toughest law in nation.

The law targets employers by forbidding drivers from stopping along a road to hire temporary workers. It also bars businesses from taking tax deductions for wages paid to illegal workers and makes it a crime for an illegal immigrant to solicit work. A federal judge has temporarily blocked those sections of the law so she can study them more.

Cristian Gonzalez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, is a stay-at-home mother of four who lives in a mobile home in suburban Birmingham with her husband. They sneaked across the border in 2009 and planned to save money and eventually return to their home country.

“We’re afraid to go to Walmart. I’m afraid to walk the kids up there to get the bus. I am afraid to drive,” Gonzalez said.

Her husband worked as a brick mason and cook, but was recently unemployed. Now they have decided they probably will return to Mexico.

“We’re just trying to be here one more year, but with this law ...” she said, her voice trailing off as she shook her head.

In Tuscaloosa, there is still a lot of rebuilding to be done after Alabama’s killer tornadoes in April. Without the Hispanic workers to help out, it will take even longer for neighborhoods to be fixed up. Blake Corder, the president of the Home Builders Association of Tuscaloosa, noted that the workers had left the area and he even lost a few renters in the past week.

Likewise, schools are worried about their students who have suddenly stopped showing up for class. Out of 34,000 Hispanic students, 2,285 were absent Monday. That number increased from Friday by a few hundred.

The figures show seven out of every 100 Hispanic children were out of school, even though state school officials have tried to assure parents that they won’t release their names to police and that no child will be denied an education due to legal status.

At Gonzalez’ mobile home community, driveways were full of cars and trucks at midday Tuesday, a time when most residents used to be at work. A resident who didn’t want to be identified out of fear of the law said people are afraid to venture out during daylight.

“People are just not going to work. They don’t want to be arrested,” the woman said.

Builders have complained they can’t find replacement workers and delays in projects are expected. Once the economy picks up and construction returns to normal, the impact will increase, said Russell Davis, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Alabama.

“There is going to be a void. No question,” Davis said.

———

Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., and Dave Martin in Steele, Ala., contributed to this report.

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TSCinSFO said...

Who wrote this article, LaRaza? Total garbage. Oh those poor farmers exploiting illegal aliens...Oh those poor illegal aliens being exploited by farmers...What about Oh those poor American taxpayers being exploited by farmers and illegal aliens instead. There are 1,000's of unemployed LEGAL American roofers, construction, and farm workers ready to take those jobs. America got by just fine before illegal aliens took (stole) these jobs. The farmers and contractors are just going to have to suck it up and pay AMERICAN WAGES. Leave it to them to complain about not making huge profits at the expense American workers so they can pay slave wages to illegal aliens. Meanwhile, the rest of us have had to subsidize their profits with our tax $$$'s for illegal aliens health care, their illegal kids education, anchor babies, etc. What this article doesn't say is that the legal migrant workers are leaving ALA because they have brought their illegal alien families with them and they are leaving ALA so they won't get caught. We will NEVER pay $5 for a tomato because illegal aliens aren't around to pick them. Farmers will have to modernize, just like every industry has, or pay a living wage for our own under educated people. Otherwise, there are plenty of prisoners that can work the chain gangs in the fields and pay restitution cost to their victims with what the farmers pay them. And guess what folks, that money will be taxed and stay right here in America instead of being wired to Mexico.

October 6, 2011 at 5:44 a.m.
GreenKepi said...

Amen...TSCinSFO! The Law 'is' working as intended...however, watch out Tennessee, here they'll come....

October 6, 2011 at 7:50 a.m.
rolando said...

They are already here, GreenKepi.

October 6, 2011 at 8:35 a.m.
hmgreen said...

I think they are not giving the American people any credit at all!!! The illegals are doing jobs Americans don't want. That makes me mad. You ask anyone whose home is in foreclosure if they won't pick tomatoes or lay down irrigation systems if it means putting food on their table. As for the farmer... 8 out of 48 workers didn't show up for work? So you had 40 illegals on your farm? Should the farmers get fined for that? I'll bet the schools are no longer complaining of overcrowding are they?

October 6, 2011 at 8:56 a.m.

"Republican Sen. Scott Beason, said he expected short-term problems, but he has received “thank you” calls from two people",,2 whole people huh?

“We have the best law in the country and I stand by what we’ve done,” Beason said.,,when all these quick fix vacancies are not filled will you accuse the residents of Alabama of being stuck up and not taking the scrap jobs the republicans offered?

"schools are worried about their students who have suddenly stopped showing up for class".,,This is the worst of all, children being denied knowledge over petty differences. Disgusting! Absolutely disgusting!!!

America deserves to Fail if these are the new foundations for the American way. Everyone of you should be ashamed for this. hmgreen is right! What your going to see is a huge vacancy in needed positions that good ole americans won't fill. We could all learn several things from these cultures but we won't because we're the chosen people we deserve much higher wages then immigrants. We deserve a buffet of employment options. We deserve to get our arses kicked for turning the land of opportunity into the land of its mine, its all mine!!!!!

October 6, 2011 at 12:12 p.m.
Shock said...

Illusion - Don't blame us citizens who are disgusted that our hard earned tax dollars are supporting people who are here illegally. Save your disgust for a system (corporate America and laws that aren't enforced) that creates a demand for and rewards illegal immigration.

I oppose illegal immigration with my heart and soul, but I also get angry when the government takes a wrongheaded approach that "profiles" people based on ethnicity and leads to legitimate citizens having their rights trampled. This Alabama law seems to be focused on the root cause of the problem - punish the businesses that create the demand. Good for Alabama.

October 6, 2011 at 1:09 p.m.
fiberopguy said...

Maybe Tennessee will soon follow!!!!! Send em packing!!!!!!!!!

October 6, 2011 at 9:24 p.m.
rolando said...

Holder's corrupt Dept of "Justice" and its handpicked federal judge's will outlaw the law, just as it did with Arizona's, et al.

We, the people, won't win until that corruption is thrown out.

October 8, 2011 at 6:59 a.m.
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