Alabama’s law makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to buy a house, pay a utility bill or sign a contract. It also penalizes those who employ them, allows police to ask drivers at roadside checkpoints or routine traffic stops about their immigration status and requires schools to ask about the legal status of all new students.
Although there is no doubt that many illegal immigrants have left Alabama since October, studies by economists at the University of Alabama indicate that the drop in unemployment is partly due to other factors. They report that the number of workers overall has been shrinking, in part from baby-boomer retirements and in part from discouraged workers suspending their job searches.
At the Wayne Farms plant in Albertville, officials said that since the law took effect, they have spent more than $5 million to train new workers and compensate for lost production. Singleton said the factory had also lost some legal Hispanic workers, who left the state rather than be separated from their illegal immigrant spouses. “This law has created a chilling effect on the whole Latino community,” he said.
Today, the factory’s workforce of about 1,000 is a diverse and unstable mix. It includes Hispanics who have passed federal ID checks, local whites and blacks, and even a group of refugees from Ethiopia and Burma, provided by an employment agency whose Web site offers, “We will help you clean house before ICE does it for you.”
In interviews in the factory parking lot, a few white and black workers said they had been hired recently. One middle-aged black man, who gave his name only as William, said he had been through some hard times and was grateful to have landed steady work. “A lot of Americans don’t want to do manual labor, but it’s an honest living, and it pays the bills,” he said.
A half-dozen Latino workers said they had legal papers, but several others said they had “borrowed” someone else’s ID. One young immigrant from Central America, who gave his name only as Juan, said he was making a decent wage at the factory but was afraid to drive his car, because his license had expired and he was not legally permitted to renew it.
“So many neighbors have left,” he said. “Nobody goes out at night. Nobody is calm. Nothing is certain.” At his workplace, he added, “there are more Americans now, Africans, even Asians. . . . Little by little, they are getting rid of us all.”
Hispanic leaders in Alabama said Friday that they are not certain how Obama’s amnesty for many illegal immigrants younger than 30 would affect the situation in Alabama. Salvador Cervantes, an activist who organized protests against the state law, called the president’s action “a great relief for all of us,” but he added that it was not clear how state officials would respond.