Alabama’s Immigration Law: Assessing the Economic, Social Impact


bjbjLULU JUDY WOODRUFF: Alabama’s new immigration
law, recently upheld by a federal judge, is now starting to have an economic impact in
the state. Representatives of the agricultural and construction industries say they are losing
a significant portion of their work force. And it is against that backdrop that the state’s
Hispanic community is voicing opposition. The Miami-Pueblo supermarket in Birmingham
closed its doors yesterday, joining Hispanic-owned businesses across Alabama to take a stand
against the state’s tough new immigration law. WOMAN: We, all the Hispanics, we should
all be together to represent you know our — how we feel to the state about it. JUDY
WOODRUFF: The work stoppage also hit the poultry industry. The parking lot was almost empty
at a Tyson Foods chicken plant in tiny Albertville in northeastern Alabama. Operations slowed
or even stopped, as many Hispanic employees staged a one-day sick-out. It was the latest
and perhaps largest protest against the law known as HB-56 passed earlier this year. One
key provision authorizes police to detain anyone who’s suspected of being in the country
illegally. Supporters say it’s intended to help legal residents by pushing illegal immigrants
out of the work force. MAN: It’s illegal, and they are getting most of the jobs that
we need right now. JUDY WOODRUFF: Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Alabama upheld the
law’s main provisions. The state’s Republican governor, Robert Bentley, welcomed the decision.
GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY, R-Ala.: It wouldn’t have been necessary to address this problem if
the federal government would have done its job and enforced the laws dealing with this
problem. JUDY WOODRUFF: But, since then, some local officials have warned that thousands
of children here legally could be left in limbo. JERRY GROCE, director of Human Resources,
Franklin County, Ala.: Worst-case scenario for us would be if we had a large number of
children who were suddenly dependent and had no relatives who were able and willing to
take care of them. And that possibly could happen if the parents were arrested or deported
suddenly. JUDY WOODRUFF: Schools are also voicing concern. They’re now required to check
the immigration status of prospective students. And, already, absentee rates are rising among
Hispanic students. In the meantime, the Mexican Consulate in Huntsville has sent out a team
to help families get documents they need to return to Mexico if needed. We talk now with
Jerry Spencer. He’s founder of the Birmingham-based Grow Alabama, which delivers locally grown
produce in the state. Jerry Spencer, thank you for joining us. I understand you work
with 200 to 300 farmers in the state. What do they grow and what’s happened to their
workers in the last few weeks? JERRY SPENCER, Grow Alabama: Well, our farmers grow a broad
range of various fruits and vegetables. And they are — some of them are large enough
to be pretty heavily impacted by the loss of their Hispanic workers. I found this out
a couple of weeks ago Friday after the decision was made, the law was enacted, and called
around to three of my farmers. And that was enough for me to know that there was a serious
impact going on. So I slept on it overnight, and put it on Facebook, and started getting
a force — mobilizing a force for the farmers to replace what they’d lost, the workers that
they’d lost. Many of them were… JUDY WOODRUFF: So… JERRY SPENCER: Yes? JUDY WOODRUFF: I
was just going to ask, how many altogether have left, and why did they say they were
leaving? JERRY SPENCER: Well, the only figures I have seen are state figures, which are about
185,000. And the reason for them leaving was the fear of incarceration, arrest, hassle
from the police, which they have been given the right to do. JUDY WOODRUFF: And what sort
of work were these laborers doing, the ones who left? Where are you now in the crop, the
harvesting cycle? How urgent is it that they be replaced? JERRY SPENCER: Well, the urgency
is in the final stages of the last harvest of the year, essentially. So, the urgency
— you know, there will be a significant loss of harvest in the next few weeks. But the
big concern is the decisions that the farmers are going to have to make about whether they
continue to farm next year. JUDY WOODRUFF: Are replacement workers available? I mean,
we know that some of the state representatives, including the one we’re about to talk to,
is saying that there are other folks in Alabama who are unemployed who would love to take
these jobs. JERRY SPENCER: There are plenty of those folks, and that’s who we are trying
to mobilize. We’re starting at a very small — on a very small basis, 40, 50 people last
week. And we’re looking at the details of what’s necessary, transportation, the workability
of these unemployed city folk working on farms. The — so we’re looking at all of that. Out
of 40, 50, 60 people, we probably have maybe 10 people who really could actually work on
a farm. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, bottom line, these workers can be replaced? JERRY SPENCER: It’s
not impossible. JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we will leave it there, Jerry Spencer.
And we appreciate your joining us. And we want to talk now a little bit more about the
impact of the Alabama law. And we want to turn to Representative — state Rep. Mike
Ball of Huntsville, Ala., who supports the law. He joins us from Knoxville, Tenn. And
Rosa Toussaint-Ortiz, she is chairwoman of the Hispanic/Latino Advisory Committee in
Huntsville. And she joins us from there. Let me start with you, Rep.e Ball. We heard not
only from Mr. Spencer. We talked today with a contractor in the state who is concerned
about people leaving these jobs. Was that the consequence you expected when the law
was passed? MIKE BALL, (R) Alabama state representative: Yes, I think so. I think that was the — that
was the purpose of the law, was to discourage those who are here in Alabama illegally. We
have a huge poverty problem in Alabama. We have a problem with unemployment. And many
of the folks that come to Alabama illegally, they have a different set of rules that they’re
hired by. They don’t have to have workman’s comp insurance. They don’t have to have employee
tax. A lot of them were paid 1099 or paid under the table. So it puts our working — undereducated,
the very people that’s having a problem with unemployment, it puts them at a competitive
disadvantage, and we need a level playing field. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ms. Rosa Toussaint-Ortiz,
how do you see the effect the law is having? ROSA TOUSSAINT-ORTIZ, Hispanic/Latino Advisory
Committee: What I see is, I understand what they are saying in reference to the jobs,
and the ones that are already citizens, they need those jobs. But what I don’t understand
is how did we decide to make a decision, a law so harsh. They have put all these people
in a crisis. It’s a chaos here. We are dealing with human beings. It doesn’t matter if they
are legal or illegals. Even if they were going to pass that law, they should have gave the
people time to process all these changes. What we have created now is chaos, crisis,
misunderstanding. The police are not sure what’s going on, what they should be doing.
The Department of Motor Vehicles is not completely sure. The people themselves are completely
confused, because what happens is the language barrier has caused rumors. So people are going
by rumors. People don’t have the clear information, and they are just completely afraid. The children
are seeing… JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let — I was just going to say, let me turn back to
Rep. Ball, and ask you about her description of a crisis. She said people don’t know where
to turn, there’s a language barrier and there’s just a lot of confusion. MIKE BALL: Well,
first of all, this bill was passed during the last session of the legislature months
ago, and it only just now took effect. As a matter of fact, during the whole campaign
season, this was something that was talked about. There is, certainly, a lot of confusion
about the law. I think a lot of the opponents of the law have — have fueled a lot of fear
in — I mean, some of the things that they have said the law does, it really doesn’t
do. You know, there’s no reason for somebody to be afraid of this law to keep their child
out of school. The provisions that are applied to schools are merely statistical counting.
So — but then, you know, people — there are folks that are fueling the fear, and,
quite frankly, if you’re here illegally, you probably should be — should be afraid that
you could get in trouble. That’s why you make things illegal. JUDY WOODRUFF: Ms. Toussaint-Ortiz,
what about that basic point, that if people are here illegally, then they shouldn’t expect
to stay? ROSA TOUSSAINT-ORTIZ: Well, the first thing is, we shouldn’t dehumanize. We are
— what I’m saying is, if they are illegal, they should have received time to make the
decision of moving out of state. You cannot — right now, we have — and, you know, let
me tell you what really upsets me. When we get tornadoes — and this has been like a
tornado on the community. We see the counselors, pastors, they go to the school to help the
children. There have been kindergarten classes like in Albertville that 20 children disappear
in one minute. And no one — what I find outrageous is that this is going on, people see the news,
and it’s like they are — the community, the U.S. citizens, they are, like, numb. They’re
not doing anything to help. And let me — you mentioned before the consulate. The Mexican
Consulate has been here yesterday, today, and they were supposed to be here tomorrow.
Now, the church, they allow us to stay there. They just canceled on us without giving us
a good reason. And all these people, we have got about 300 and some people coming tomorrow
that they’re not going to have — they’re not going to be able to serve because now
we don’t have a place. JUDY WOODRUFF: Just finally, one quick final word from Rep. Ball.
Is there going to be an attempt to clarify this situation for them? MIKE BALL: Well,
quite frank — as far as the people that are here illegally — if they’re here legally,
they have no problem, nothing to be concerned about. If they’re here illegally, then there
are some measures in this law that would — that would make it rough on them… JUDY WOODRUFF:
Right. MIKE BALL: … I mean, because it’s — I don’t mean make it rough. I mean they
could be arrested. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will have to leave it there. We want to thank
you, Rep. Mike Ball… MIKE BALL: Sure. JUDY WOODRUFF: … from the state of Alabama and
Rosa Toussaint-Ortiz. We appreciate both of you joining us. MIKE BALL: Thank you. ROSA
TOUSSAINT-ORTIZ: Thank you. hF>b hF>b hF>b hF>b gdF>b hF>b hF>b hF>b hF>b hF>b gdF>b
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Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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