Immigrants already beginning to flee Alabama

immigration protest

What happens when a state bypasses the federal government and enacts its own immigration laws? It’s well known by now that Arizona lost substantial convention business and has racked up huge legal bills defending the state’s laws. Those facts have not stopped other states from following suit. Alabama, where the new laws are slated to take effect in September is seeing immigrants selling their possessions and getting ready to move.

That is exactly what the law was intended to accomplish say some of the legislators who voted for it. Business groups, though, say lawmakers are in for a surprise when they find out later that those people who are leaving the state may take other, legal, residents with them and may leave gaping holes in Alabama’s agriculture, forestry and construction businesses.


Most parts of Alabama’s immigration law won’t take effect until Sept. 1 at the earliest, yet many people already are reacting to it.

Some unauthorized immigrants have moved from Alabama.

Many are trying to sell sofas, refrigerators and other items to raise money in case the law does survive a federal court challenge and they need to move home or to states without such a law.

Many immigrant parents also are arranging for trusted people to have power of attorney, so that if they are detained under the law, someone will have authority to take care of their kids.

State Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, who sponsored the immigration bill that became law last month, said that, if the law is causing undocumented immigrants to leave, it’s doing what he intended.

“This will create jobs for unemployed Alabama citizens,” Hammon said. “We want to discourage illegal immigrants from coming to Alabama and prevent those that are already here from putting down roots.”

A mass exodus of undocumented immigrants, if it were to occur, would put a dent in Alabama’s work force. An estimated 95,000 unauthorized immigrants worked in Alabama in 2009 and 2010, making up about 4.2 percent of the labor force, the report said.

There are about 120,000 undocumented immigrants in Alabama, which if they all lived in one newly created town, it would be the fifth largest city in Alabama.

While the politicians who passed the comprehensive immigration reform law–considered even tougher than Arizona’s–continue to support it, business groups are becoming ever more vocal in their opposition, saying the law could completely destroy much of Alabama’s economy.

State Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan said that last week, he saw squash in Jackson County and tomatoes in Blount County rotting in fields for lack of people to pick them. He said a squash farmer said he had 10 pickers for his crop but needed 25. McMillan noted that many Hispanic migrants for years have picked fruits and vegetables in Alabama.

“We’re hearing from the growers that their employees are leaving,” he said.

Johnny Adams, executive director of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, said the law’s effects will depend on whether it survives court challenge and whether Hispanic workers — people here illegally and those here legally, who are related to unauthorized immigrants or who feel unwelcome because of the law — actually leave.

“Once the law is in place, how thoroughly will it be policed?” Adams added.

McMillan said the law could cause severe worker shortages in Alabama. “Worst case, it’s going to decimate any outdoor labor that we have, whether it’s farm or construction or forestry or whatever,” he said.

Russell Davis, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Alabama, said labor shortages could be “serious issues” once demand for houses picks up, because of Hispanics who are skilled workers and laborers leaving Alabama and because some homebuilders quit the business in the latest downturn.

Jay Reed, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama, said four contractors so far have told him they had employees who left the state because of the law. He added that legal immigrants may leave for fears of racial profiling, or because a cousin or other relative is here illegally and wants to leave because of the law.

“Every commercial contractor I’ve come in touch with is concerned about the void in labor that we’re going to experience due to the nature of the law,” Reed said.

It could be that damage to the economy, or looking at it from the point of view of the legislature, the availability of jobs for U.S. citizens, may not even be the major effect of the law. Alabama, where the primary sponsor of the immigration law recently referred to African Americans as “aborigines,” may find itself taking a trip back in time to the civil rights wars it was famous for 50 years ago.

In any event, Alabama, like Arizona, is already tied up with lawsuits.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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