“Even someone born and raised in Albertville may not have the necessary skills or be able to pass a background check,” said Frank Singleton, a spokesman for Wayne Farms, which owns the slaughterhouse. The firm held a job fair that attracted about 250 local residents, but few were hired, and some soon quit, daunted by the demanding work. Since the law took effect, he said, “our turnover rate has gone through the roof.”
Sponsors of the law say it has done exactly what they had hoped, driving tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from the state. The U.S. Justice Department has challenged some parts of the law, and President Obama’s announcement Friday of a temporary legal amnesty for more than 1 million young undocumented immigrants nationwide clashes directly with Alabama’s legislation.
“All our activities will be for naught if the president grants amnesty to everyone,” state Sen. Scott Beason, the chief sponsor of the Alabama law, said Friday. Still, with the U.S. Supreme Court expected to rule shortly on a similar law in Arizona, champions of the Alabama measure hope that their legal position will be largely vindicated. “If Arizona is a success, then Alabama will be a success, too,” Beason said.
The state senator said he had “absolutely no doubt” that the law, and the resulting exodus of illegal workers, has started putting more Alabamians to work. Beason noted that the state’s unemployment rate has fallen sharply since last fall, from 9.8 percent to 7.2 percent, and he said the new law was “a big part” of the reason. “I get phone calls from people thanking me all the time,” he said.
Nevertheless, a variety of employers in Alabama said they have not been able to find enough legal residents to replace the seasoned Hispanic field pickers, drywall hangers, landscapers and poultry workers who fled the state. There was an initial rush of job applications, they said, but many new employees quit or were let go.
Wayne Smith, 56, raises tomatoes on a family farm in the misty hills of Chandler Mountain, a 40-minute drive from Albertville. Last fall, he said, his entire Mexican crew ran off, and Smith and his neighbors scoured the area for new workers. The growers pay $2 for every large box of picked tomatoes, and a worker must be able to pluck fast all day, bent over in the hot sun, to fill two or three dozen boxes.