Saturday, July 2, 2011

Illegal Workers in Alabama: The Exodus - BusinessWeek

Illegal Workers in Alabama: The Exodus - BusinessWeek

Tuscaloosa County’s 6,000-strong Hispanic population—including roofers, drywallers, framers, landscapers, and laborers—is disappearing in anticipation of a new law aimed at ridding the state of illegal immigrants, which takes effect in September. “They’re leaving now, right now,” says Duarte, 36, during a pause in a pickup soccer game. “I know people who are packing up tonight. They don’t want to wait to see what happens.” Two weeks ago, he says, his league had 12 teams. “Last week, it was eight.”

Alabama goes further than most states in criminalizing assistance to illegal immigrants. Hiring, housing, and providing transportation to undocumented residents will be state crimes. Employers will be required to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm workers’ eligibility. The law also charges police and school officials with checking residency status.

The law’s backers say it is intended in part to create jobs for citizens of Alabama, where unemployment was 9.6 percent in May, a half-point higher than the national average. “This will put thousands of Alabamians back in the workforce,” state Senator Scott Beason, a Republican from Gardendale, said at the law’s signing on June 9.

So far, that hasn’t happened. Some contractors say that as immigrants move away, employers will have a hard time finding enough legal Alabama residents with the skills and desire to take their place. “There are plenty of people capable of working, if they’d just get off their butts and do it,” says Rich Cooper, a contractor with Bell Construction in Tuscaloosa.

Other states with tough anti-immigration statutes are seeing similar Hispanic flight. Georgia’s Agriculture Dept. reports the state is short 11,000 farmworkers this year, at the height of the summer fruit and vegetable picking season.

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