Illegal Immigrant Crackdown in Alabama Leads to Severe Agricultural Labor Shortage

 @ashleyportero
on October 21 2011 1:00 PM

Following the passage of Alabama's strict immigration law, which has caused thousands of undocumented immigrants to flee the state due to fears of deportation, farmers are suffering from a labor shortage that they say won't be filled by unemployed American citizens

Farmers in Alabama and other parts of the country often must rely on undocumented immigrants for labor because they say Americans aren't willing to commit themselves to strenuous, low-paying jobs that immigrants are willing to perform -- and well.

Alabama passed its law, widely considered to be the toughest in the nation, in June. Although it was immediately challenged by the Obama administration, a federal appeals court ultimately upheld most of the measure.

While Alabama politicians who support the law -- which allows law enforcement to detain suspected undocumented immigrants who have been lawfully stopped and prohibits state courts from enforcing contracts involving illegal immigrants, among other provisions -- claim over time more Americans will fill the jobs left vacant by illegal aliens, those in the agricultural industry don't agree.

At a hearing that attracted more than 100 people to the Blount County Agri-Business Center on Thursday night, The Birmingham News reports that farmers explained to government officials that it has been difficult to harvest their crops due to a severe labor shortage.

Multiple farmers pointed out that immigrant laborers offer work far harder than the Alabama citizens that the immigration law requires them to employ in their stead. Jeremy Calvert, a farmer in Bremen, said he is offended when he hears other state residents refer to him and other farmers as un-American because they rely on immigrant labor.

The 80 percent of people are being fed by the 1 percent of us, he told the audience.

Multiple farmers who have spoken to the press have expressed similar grievances.

I've had people calling me wanting to work, Keith Smith, a potato farmer, told The Associated Press. I haven't turned any of them down, but they're not any good. It's hard work, they just don't work like the Hispanics with experience.

Wayne Smith, a tomato farmer, told the AP that he has never been able to keep a staff of American workers in his 25 years of farming.

People in Alabama are not going to do this, said Smith. They'd work one day and then just wouldn't show up again.

Jerry Spencer of Grow America -- a company that purchases and sells locally owned produce -- told the source that a crew of four Hispanic workers can earn $150 each by picking 250 to 300 boxes of tomatoes in a day. Meanwhile, a crew of 25 Americans recently picked 200 boxes in all, earning about $24 a piece.

Alabama is not alone. Several states with harsh immigration laws, including Georgia, have also been hit with a severe shortage of agricultural laborers. A study released by the University of Georgia earlier this month that the labor shortage is expected to cost the Georgia economy $391 million this year, while resulting in the loss of more than 3,000 jobs

As a result in the shortage of skilled workers, farmers say they are being forced to downsize or allow crops to die on the vine.

Alabama State Rep. Jeremy Oden told The Birmingham News that he does not regret voting in favor of the bill, despite the resulting labor shortage. However, he said he is open to modifying the legislation by creating a temporary worker program.

Two new bills introduced to the U.S. Congress would reform the way the agricultural industry hires temporary workers. One measure, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., would modify the existing federal H-2A temporary agricultural visa program to allow about 500,000 seasonal workers a year into the country.

The other bill, introduced by Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., would create a new visa category for agricultural workers and allow for their admission into the U.S. for 10 months in any 12-month period.

 

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