Alabama Farmers Say Immigration Law has Depleted Workforce

While a federal judge deliberates over the constitutionality of Alabama’s hard-line immigration reforms, farmers are telling state lawmakers the measures are already hurting the local agriculture sector.

At a September 19 forum with three state legislators at a truck-stop dining room north of Birmingham, many of the 50 farmers in attendance said they will be short on labor this harvest season because Hispanic workers have left the state due to the immigration law signed last June. Under that law, penalties are imposed on employers who knowingly hire immigrants who do not have a work permit.

The law has been challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights groups, and Judge Sharon Blackburn has suspended its enforcement until she makes a ruling on its constitutionality. That ruling is scheduled to be handed down by September 28. But farmers say Hispanic workers have already begun to leave the state.

Kim Haynes told The Associated Press he’s lost about half the laborers he needs for his 25-acre sweet potato farm, and he anticipates even more attrition if the law goes into effect at the end of the month.

California farmers, faced with a similar requirement to check the citizenship status of all workers, have lobbied Washington lawmakers to institute a special guest worker visa to allow Hispanic laborers to remain on farm payrolls.