Alabama's Immigration Debate: Agriculture Industry

With the state’s unemployment rate at just under 10 percent, supporters of Alabama's new immigration law say they want to put as many Alabamians to work as possible. A local farmer who does hire local help in addition to migrant workers says their work ethic doesn’t compare.

“They work. They just work. They want a better way of life. They don’t mind working,” said Jerry Danford.

He plants 2,500 acres of cucumbers every year on his farm in Grangerburg. Danford uses a leasing company to hire a crew of migrant workers to grade the cucumbers. He needs fifty, but with Alabama’s new immigration law, only about 15 took the job, and he says locals just don’t cut it.

“Right now we had a small crop in the fall, and we have picked up a lot of locals. They’ll come today and won’t come tomorrow. Won’t work on weekends. You can forget that,” he said.

Stories like his are being told all across the state as crops rot in the fields. Leaders say they expected a shortage in workers as illegal immigrants fled the state, but they didn’t anticipate legal immigrants leaving with them.

John McMillan, Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries said, “We felt like we were going to have some residual labor here to at least be an asset in helping us here through this situation.”

McMillan said there is a bright side. It’s putting pressure on the federal government to address the illegal immigration issue.

“If enough states do this it does tend to probably put pressure on whoever the next president is. It’s just common sense that we can have 50 different sets of laws and rules and regulations dealing with this issue and it’s you know a national issue,” he said.

Many state lawmakers say they are open to adding modifications to the law in the next session. Many are suggesting a temporary worker program. In the meantime, McMillan said farmers will have to adjust.

“Right now we’re going to have to assume that we’re going to have to live with this law. They’re going to figure out ways to harvest differently or go back to old ways where they are in businesses that don’t require labor,” says McMillan.

Danford has already made changes, like not planting a watermelon crop this year because he couldn't get the labor to harvest.
He says he's not worried about himself. It's newcomers to the game who will suffer most.

“I’m 70 years old. My wife and I are going to survive. It’s these gentlemen that have devoted 20-25 years that does a good job and earns a good living, if this business goes down they’re going to have to look elsewhere,” says Danford.

Alabama has launched a way to fill the job void for farmers. The new program is called "Work Alabama" and focuses on matching temporary jobs with people looking for temporary work

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  • by robert Location: ozark on Nov 4, 2011 at 04:10 PM
    this is the best thing that has happened to Ala since Gov Wallace was in unemployment funds should go to anyone who refuses to work in the fields
  • by deb Location: fla on Nov 2, 2011 at 01:48 PM
    those families stick together and they actually "beleive" in helping each naturally if some of the family leaves because they can't get work..the rest will leave also..regardless of legal or illeagal..
    • reply
      by brandy on Nov 5, 2011 at 10:40 AM in reply to deb
      this is very true also they are already packing up and leaving and the farmers are the ones suffering because the hispanics arent here to pick the crops and work in the fields.
  • by Rosalinda Luna Location: Siler city,Nc on Nov 2, 2011 at 01:02 PM
    See this is the kind of situaticion that people don't see. Do you think whites african american and hispanics born and raised are going to do that kind of job, nope it aint happening. They should re ammend that law and find some kind of help for alabama farmers. Take it from my point of view I used to work in alabaMas fields.
    • reply
      by LISA on Nov 2, 2011 at 01:31 PM in reply to Rosalinda Luna
      You are correct! I agree 100%
    • reply
      by brandy on Nov 5, 2011 at 10:37 AM in reply to Rosalinda Luna
      look i agree with u rosalinda the whites and blacks arent going to get out there and do the jobs the hispanics do for next to nothing.ammend the law or alabama will will not have any crops to plant and there will be no food that what will we do?
  • by margart Location: geveva al on Nov 2, 2011 at 12:08 PM
    how do you get appicaition
  • by Anonymous on Nov 1, 2011 at 09:00 PM
    How much are pecans brings this year? Not many on the ground means better prices, means you better not sale them all or you won't be able to by them in the store. Supply and demand always cost the end customer.
  • by Tina Location: Enterprise on Nov 1, 2011 at 08:11 PM
    The farmers want to pay under the table to the illegals who work dirt cheap. It is pure greed! I was involved in a wreck with an illegal and I am out thousands because of the drunk illegal. But there is nothing I can do about it. If they are not here legally then I say get the hell out of Alabama!
  • by Lisa Location: Dothan on Nov 1, 2011 at 07:26 PM
    Talking about the farmer scaling down I think not; what will we do when we go to the grocery store to by food and it's not there? Let china feed us too?
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Nov 2, 2011 at 11:13 AM in reply to Lisa
      Fight Y'all!!!!
  • by Lamisha Location: Enterprise AL on Nov 1, 2011 at 05:47 PM
    The link doesn't work, I can't enter it into my browser.
  • by Stuart Location: Enterprise on Nov 1, 2011 at 03:56 PM
    The farmers need to scale down to a reasonable level and go to work themselves like we did. Greed has overcome their reasoning.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Nov 7, 2011 at 09:05 AM in reply to Stuart
      BINGO STUART!!! Reasonable level is the key words! But no....our Farmers, Doctors, Dentists, Bankers, etc HAVE to have big houses and fancy expensive toys...boils down to pride,vanity and greed. Makes me sick..
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