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Florida’s Latest Immigrants: Undocumented Workers Fleeing Alabama’s Harsh Vise

| November 10, 2011

Welcome or panic: take your pick. (George Thomas)

After experiencing domestic out-migration for the first time in its history,  Florida may finally be attracting folks from other states to move here.

More snowbirds from New York? Disenchanted Beltway residents?


Laborers from Alabama.

For more than a month, news outlets have been reporting an influx of undocumented workers moving to Florida from Alabama as a result of a newly passed state law that is the harshest immigration enforcement measure in the country. Entire communities packed up overnight and moved on.

The law requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they pull over, detain or arrest if they suspect that person might be here without papers. If they can’t produce papers, they’re taken in.

It also makes educators accumulate immigration information on students, which has had a chilling effect on Hispanic schoolchildren of Alabama — even if they are American-born and perfectly entitled to public education. That’s because many families are “mixed,” which means the children were born in the United States (and are citizens) while their parents are undocumented and not here legally. The first schoolday after the law went into effect, 2,000 Hispanic children were missing from their classes.

The Alabama law is the poster legislation for all the things that are wrong — and, its proponents would argue, that are right – about setting immigration enforcement policy on a state-by-state basis.

“[It’s] piecemeal reform undertaken at the state level with different states doing different things, making it harder for employers to hire illegal immigrants,” said Gordon Hanson, an economist specializing in the impacts of immigration at the University of California-San Diego.

florida center for investigative reportingThe state-by-state approach causes displacement, uncertainty and economic upheaval.

Outcomes that are actually embraced by advocates of the tighter laws.

“Those are the intended consequences of Alabama’s legislation with respect to illegal aliens,” U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama told Politico. “We don’t have the money in America to keep paying for the education of everybody else’s children from around the world. We simply don’t have the financial resources to do that. Second, with respect to illegal aliens who are now leaving jobs in Alabama, that’s exactly what we want.”

Immigration is so complicated and entwined through so many parts of our society that every law has multitudes of both intended and unintended consequences. And even the intended conseqences — such as creating more jobs for U.S.-born workers — often don’t have the desired effect.

“Since this law went in to effect, I’ve had a total 11 people that were Americans come and ask for work,” Alabama tomato farmer Jamie Boatwright told NPR. “A total of one of those actually came back the next day.”

Boatwright said that the worker picked about four boxes of tomatoes before leaving the field and quitting.

“There is a lot of heavy lifting and manual labor, and you are out there in the sun and the rain. It is just not attractive to Americans,” Mac Higginbotham, an official with the Alabama Farmers Federation, told the Washington Post.

Higginbotham said he knows of some Alabama tomato farmers who lost between 40 and 60 percent of their crop because they couldn’t find people to pick them.

When every state begins creating their own immigration legislation, one state’s unintended consequences becomes its neighbors’ unanticipated complication.

Or, if the neighbor recognizes the opportunity, perhaps an unexpected human windfall.

–Ralph De La Cruz, FCIR

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13 Responses for “Florida’s Latest Immigrants: Undocumented Workers Fleeing Alabama’s Harsh Vise”

  1. Liana G says:

    Meanwhile in GA – …” And thanks to HB 87, a copycat law of Arizona’s infamous SB 1070, millions of pounds of watermelons were left to rot in the fields this summer—along with peaches, blackberries and cucumbers—as many of the most dependable and experienced farmworkers steered clear of Georgia and headed north for friendlier states, prompting an epic farm labor shortage in Georgia and desperate howls from its planters….The result: an estimated $300 million in lost crops, with potential losses of
$1 billion for the season for the state’s agricultural sector.

    How did Georgia come to suffer such a painful, self-inflicted wound? The proximate cause is the intoxicating power of spreading anti-immigrant sentiment, fanned by incendiary Tea Party–style politics, which have found fertile ground throughout much of the South….Many Georgia farmers supported the law as well. Sixth-generation blackberry farmer Gary Paulk was chair of Deal’s gubernatorial campaign in Irwin County, next door to Tifton. He told Time magazine in June that he stood to lose $250,000 for the summer because of the labor shortage, adding, with no apparent self-awareness, that he finds the law “appalling, because they didn’t think through the implications, at the farm level.”

    But like most things in the South, the roots of this particular problem run deep, into a long regional history of undervaluing agricultural labor. Georgia’s leaders (and much of its agricultural industry) were confident that replacement workers could be hired without a hiccup in the harvest. This particular confederacy of dunces believed their own rhetoric and are now paying the price. And from the look of things, it really hurts when you shoot yourself in the foot.”

    I’m sure they can find people to do the job for the right wages, the problem is – will Americans want to pay for those wages when they shop for food?

  2. 2 cents says:

    So Americans look down their nose at common labor? Why don’t the ” will work for food” people apply for the job? There seems to be a lot of those on every intersection.

  3. RLJ says:

    Required to produce papers? Starting to sound like the USSR, or maybe Nazi Germany… Who exactly are the “Americans” who aren’t immigrants? Not the Native Americans, we stole their land and forced them onto reservations. I guess it must mean “white people”. As a white “non-immigrant”, my family came here only 3 generations ago. I guess that makes me different.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Excellent RLJ!!
    If we do not want back breaking jobs that can only afford just so much rate per hour, then let these people come here and do it legally under contract. Or be ready to pay over 5 times the lb of tomatoes and pumpkins, etc. Lets then get the rest of us go to these for profit colleges and always that we could afford them and land in the unemployment line after graduation while the college loan unpaid bills collectors nock at our doors, if we still have a home. Because the way our “capitalist dream have regressed” now, that is our only future.

  5. Morgan Monaco says:

    Native Americans are to lazy to pick up any crop.We should sent back to Mexico all the unwanted like Dwight Eisenhower did to preserve american jobs.

  6. Begonia says:

    Undocumented workers usually end up working for illegally low wages. Anybody checking to see who they farmers are paying? What they are paying? Decent working conditions? Interesting that nobody from the federal government is after them on this… Should be issuing fines and they are not demanding any of this,


    Why shouldn’t farm workers, legal or illegal, expect decent wages? Could there possibly be a little money here changing hands?

  7. Lin says:

    Illegal means illegal — They are not undocumented immigrants, they are illegal. The federal govt is not enforcing the laws to close our borders. Therefore, where the states have stepped in to enforce fed law, the illegals move on where the climate is more friendly — and to sanctuary areas. Our President and other Reps have sworn to uphold the Constitution and they are NOT fulfilling their oaths. Here in the USA, we are suffering, millions without jobs, inflation, decreasing paychecks, cuts in social help that is needed — yet we are an attractive nuisance attracting illegals with instate college tuition, medical care and jobs in some states. Why? An ICE union official was on TV the other night talking about how he was told not to enforce our laws. The border agents being killed and other murders and violence coming across a porous border makes me long for a lawful society, And yes, enforcement against employers who take advantage of the illegal workers. If watermelons are withering on the vine, the employers should offer a decent wage.

  8. Delaware Bob says:

    Well, I guess the law is working, and this is good. Maybe Florida should pass the law. Other states are passing the law, and if Florida don’t pass the law, you will have a lot more illegal aliens to keep.

    Let’s face it. Our Federal Government has failed all of us in not enforcing our immigration laws. Look at how many anchor babies, (illegal alien children), the American taxpayers have paid for. Was it about 4.2 million over the last 16-18 years? Maybe this is something that should be written about. Then we have to school these illegal alien children, the parents (parent) go on welfare, get food stamps, public housing and everything else. What does this cost the American taxpayer? How about the stolen identities, forged documents and fake green cards. Well, you can’t blame the illegal aliens completely. We do have these UNAMERICAN people who hire these illegal aliens. Of course we have these illegal alien students who are DEMANDING we pass the DREAM Act so we can pay for their college tuition. How about the demonstrations of these illegal aliens DEMANDING we give them amnesty. Who do these people think they are? They have no right to be in this country, yet they are DEMANDING, yes, DEMANDING we give them amnesty. Well, I am DEMANDING we get our immigration laws ENFORCED! Look at the costs of deporting these illegal aliens. Look at the costs of the trials and jailing of these illegal aliens. Look at the costs of the law suits by la raza, the aclu and now the DOJ. Oh, don’t forget the Catholic Church. Look at the BILLIONS sent out of this country by the illegal aliens. How does that help America? When is this all going to end? I will tell you. It will end when we get rid of all the illegal aliens. That’s when.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    @Delaware Bob. Then when only all Latino illegal’s, the only ones targeted here now, are gone…will be more money available (spent in booting them all) to bring more thousands of refugees with their plane and monthly expenses paid by government checks funded by us all and for life sometimes, like the ones from Africa, Asia and even to relocate here from Russia and other countries. Not only the Catholic organizations supports the influx of refugees funded by us all, so do other Christian and Jewish organizations as well..What is totally forgotten here is that current campaign against these illegals aims only to those that used to live in their own land here before taken by force in 1848 from Mexico.
    After taking their land by force, we shut the doors to our neighbors to the South , that risk their lives crossing those deserts on their own looking for those undesirable jobs, so we can afford to bring in refugees with all expenses paid from faraway places in this world for frivolous political reasons.
    By the way Bob your ancestors arrived here also, because they were granted visas. These specially targeted illegals are NOT granted visas if they formally request them!!

  10. Doug Chozianin says:

    Why not use incarcerated prisoners, parolees and the unemployed? Let the farmers pay them the prevailing wage for the work they do, the prison system gives them gives them time off their sentence and everybody benefits.

    Also, how about hiring those Occupy-Wall-Streeters? (After they’ve been disinfected and given shots, of course.)

  11. some guy says:

    (RLJ) Who exactly are the “Americans” who aren’t immigrants? Americans who are not immigrants are those who are BORN in the USA!! ( and if you go by the XIV Amend. it would only include those whos Parents are not Forign nationals) Kinda simple.

  12. Outsider says:

    I would happily pay twice as much for tomatoes if that would get me off the hook for paying for medical care, food, and education for the next twenty years for every child of the illegals. (Oh, excuse me; the “undocumented immigrants.”) If you tallied up the true costs, which are rarely mentioned by the left, of those “cheap” tomatoes, you’d see they are actually quite expensive after all. Why not end the practice of hiring illegals, hire some of the 30 million unemployed who are collecting unemployment for 99 plus weeks, pay them a reasonable wage, and still come out trillions of dollars ahead? This fallacy of “cheap” labor is just that; it’s not cheap when you consider the real cost of said labor. And yes, the XIV amendment, according to it’s authors, was intended to grant citizenship to children of parents not subject to a foreign jurisdiction. It was written specifically to grant citizenship to slaves and native Americans. It was liberalism that brought about this notion that it applied to anyone who could drop a kid on American soil, and it’s costing us billions that we clearly don’t have.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Outsider maybe you should apply for this opening as per today’s News Journal. Is not that these farmers do not advertise the jobs! Maybe you want to do it?

    “McNeill Labor Management Inc.- Belle Glade, FL now hiring 55 temporary farmworkers to work in Flagler County, FL from 12/26/11 to 06/30/12. Hourly wage of $9.50. Harvest, load, pack, grade and stack cabbage. Manually cut cabbage with knife. Grade and stack potatoes. Work requires repetitive bending, reaching and lifting up to 40lbs, and working in inclement weather conditions including extreme heat. Three quarters of an average of 40hrs./wk guaranteed. Tools, supplies and equipment provided at no cost. Housing provided at no cost if outside commuting area. If applicable, transportation and subsistence expense to the job will be paid upon completion of 50% of the employment period, or earlier. Report or send application to the Florida State Workforce Agency and refer to job order number FL 9614090 to apply for this job.

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