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Southern racist immigration laws cause labor disruption

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 11/28/2011, 4:18 p.m.

Local changes in immigration laws in Alabama-the state referred to as the "heart of Dixie"- have many calling the tactics to get immigrants out the "new Jim Crow."

Alabama is one of many recent southern states to adopt new immigration-related laws. But while there is a push to get immigrants out of the state, the agriculture industry is also taking a beating. Many Mexican and Central American workers who usually work on farms are now leaving due to the new laws. The center of the debate is a bill, HB56, which cracks down on illegal immigrants in Alabama.

In October, the 11th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals intervened and stayed certain provisions of Alabama's immigration law saying they were unconstitutional. The provisions that were blocked would have required proof of lawful residency in the United States and would have tracked immigration information about newly enrolled students.

Immigrants are still leaving the state due to the draconian provisions of the law, and whites and Blacks in Alabama are being looked towards to do the work that was once done by immigrants. However, many of the American workers do not have the skill sets to quickly and efficiently do the work, and the work is underpaid.

"Some immigrant rights advocates are pointing to this as proof that Alabama's racist anti-Latino immigration law was self-defeating," said New York-based business immigration lawyer, Roger Algase. "Spanish-speaking farm workers, according to this argument, were vital to Alabama's economy, and forcing them to leave the state was economically stupid. There is no one left to pick the vegetables. American farm owners and consumers are suffering. In effect, the rest of us are saying to Alabama: 'See, bigotry is bad for business. We told y'all so.'"

This week 11 members of the House of Representatives voiced opposition toward Alabama's new immigration laws in Birmingham. Among them were Rep. Teri Sewell of Alabama, Rep. Joe Baca of California and Rep. Silvestre Reyes from Texas. The group was also joined by Birmingham Mayor William Bell.

The elected officials were joined by nearly 2,000 people at a rally to launch "One Family, One Alabama" to repeal bill HB56.

"I believe that Alabama's immigration law is overly broad and opens the door to subjective profiling, which creates uncertainty and distress in our communities," Sewell said. "The unfortunate and unintended consequences resulting from this law [have] already been experienced in our state's schools, in long lines at our Departments of Motor Vehicles and in the mass exodus of many Hispanic Americans from Alabama. These citizens are fearful of the impact this law may have on their families, communities and work environments."