From Blog.AL.com, Mike Marshall, The Huntsville Times, 7 Aug 2011.
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – A national farm bureau official urged Alabama farmers in Huntsville Saturday to tell legislators the state’s tough new immigration law could hurt them.
“It is important for you to talk to your legislators, especially your senator, and say, ‘If I can’t get my crops out of the field, you will have done me harm,'” Paul Schlegel, public policy director for the American Farm Bureau Federation, told farmers at a commodity conference.
Schlegel said there are about 1 million hired farm workers in America. Of those, at least 600,000 are “undocumented workers,” he said.
If new immigration laws in Alabama and elsewhere remain in place, Schlegel said up to $9 billion in annual production “is at risk” if the federal government does not enact an agricultural worker program.
In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley has signed into law the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. The new law allows local police to hold people suspected of being in the United States illegally, makes it a crime for an illegal immigrant to seek work and makes it a crime to knowingly transport or harbor an illegal immigrant, among other things.
Schlegel endorses a program that covers “all of agriculture and provides workers to producers in a timely and efficient manner.” The current H2A program is “notorious for inefficiencies” in getting workers to growers, he said.
Schlegel made the remarks to farmers representing 17 different commodities from row crops to cattle and fruits and vegetables, according to Jeff Helms, director of communications for the Alabama Farmers Federation.
The seminar was part of the 39th annual Commodity Producers Conference in Huntsville this weekend. It is among several seminars on the new law being conducted statewide.
Cody Ewing of Locust Fork was among the farmers at the seminar. Ewing farms 200 acres in Blount County near the base of Sand Mountain, where immigration is an issue.
“There’s a lot” of anxiety about the new law, he said. “It’s hard. The legal help that’s here, it’s hard to find help to get out in the field and work on (hot) days.”
Ewing says he has a friend “who’s here legally.” But several of his friend’s cousins were illegal.
With the new state legislation, his friend’s relatives moved out of state, many to South Carolina, he said. Moves like those, he said, are having a considerable effect on farmers in his area.
A farmer on Chandler Mountain, near Ashville in St. Clair County, “couldn’t get any of his tomatoes picked at all,” Ewing said. But Ewing is optimistic that lawmakers “will find a loophole where it works itself out.”
The law has received several legal challenges. At Saturday’s seminar, Ted Hosp, an attorney with Maynard, Cooper and Gale of Birmingham, cited three federal lawsuits and one state lawsuit.
But those lawsuits do not have the potential for blocking “the sections most relevant to” farmers, he said.
“If you’re hoping none of this will go into effect, you need to drop that hope,” he said.
Two of sections most relevant to farmers are the provisions that require e-verification to verify a worker’s authorization, along with the section that makes it unlawful to knowingly employ or continue to hire an illegal immigrant.
“If you have somebody who is illegal here, you’ll have to terminate them,” Hosp said.
“There is very little you can do to help them become legal.”