Alabama Immigration Law Causing Produce To Rot In The Fields

Another case of the law of unintended consequences.

Alabama’s tomato farmers are experiencing some of the same problems that Georgia farmers did earlier this year thanks to Alabama’s tough new immigration law, but the author of the law says he’s not willing to change it:

A sponsor of Alabama’s tough new immigration law told desperate tomato farmers Monday that he won’t change the law, even though they told him that their crops are rotting in the field and they are at risk of losing their farms.

Republican state Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale met with about 50 growers, workers, brokers and business people Monday at a tomato packing shed on Chandler Mountain in northeast Alabama. They complained that the new law, which went into effect Thursday, scared off many of their migrant workers at harvest time.

“The tomatoes are rotting on the vine, and there is very little we can do,” said Chad Smith, who farms tomatoes with his uncle, father and brother.

“My position is to stay with the law as it is,” Beason told the farmers.

Beason helped write and sponsor a law the Legislature enacted in June to crack down on illegal immigration. It copied portions of laws enacted in Arizona, Georgia and other states, including allowing police to detain people indefinitely if they don’t have legal status. Beason and other proponents said the law would help free up jobs for Alabamians in a state suffering through 9.9 percent unemployment.

The farmers said the some of their workers may have been in the country illegally, but they were the only ones willing to do the work.

“This law will be in effect this entire growing season,” Beason told the farmers. He said he would talk to his congressman about the need for a federal temporary worker program that would help the farmers next season.

“There won’t be no next growing season,” farmer Wayne Smith said.

“Does America know how much this is going to affect them? They’ll find out when they go to the grocery store. Prices on produce will double,” he said.

Lana Boatwright said she and her husband had used the same crews for more than a decade, but only eight of the 48 workers they needed showed up after the law took effect.

“My husband and I take them to the grocery store at night and shop for them because they are afraid they will be arrested,” she said.

Chad Smith said his family would normally have 12 trucks working the fields on Monday, but only had the workers for three. He estimated his family could lose up to $150,000 this season because of a lack of help to pick the crop.

“We will be lucky to be in business next year,” he said.

At the end of the day, Smith was not at all pleased with Beason’s response:

After talking with famers at the tomato shed, Beason visited the Smith family’s farm. Leroy Smith, Chad Smith’s father, challenged the senator to pick a bucket full of tomatoes and experience the labor-intensive work.

Beason declined but promised to see what could be done to help farmers while still trying to keep illegal immigrants out of Alabama.

Smith threw down the bucket he offered Beason and said, “There, I figured it would be like that.”

Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Beason wasn’t all that interested in picking tomatoes. As we learned yesterday, and as Georgia farmers learned earlier this year, picking vegetables simply isn’t something that Americans are willing to do no matter what the wages might be. There’s nothing wrong with that, really. Standing outside in the hot sun, bending over, and picking tomatoes, onions, or cabbage isn’t fun to say the least and doing it for eight or nine hours a day, five or six days a week, is physically and mentally exhausting. There are people out there who are willing to do this work, though. So willing that they’re willing to take the risks of immigrating and living under the radar just for the privilege of starting a life in the United States of America. The response of states like Alabama and Georgia, though, has been to respond to the xenophobia that lies beneath most anti-immigrant rhetoric and pass laws that chase these people out of their states, leaving the farming industry high and dry during a period is rough to begin with.

There is an alternative to all of this, and it involves creating the kind of Guest Worker program that President Bush was talking about when comprehensive immigration reform was last being debated in Congress. Such a program would allow farmers to have access to the labor that they need, and do so in an environment where the workers are here legally, and paying taxes, rather than forcing everyone to do business in the shadows and under the table. Unfortunately, the Republican shot down immigration reform back then, and any prospect of such reform being passed any time soon is pretty dim given the current climate inside the GOP on the issue. So, instead, we get stuff like this, and we get tomatoes rotting on the vine because of a stupid law passed in Montgomery. Maybe when people go to the grocery store and see prices increase yet again, they’ll realize just how stupid laws like this are.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    When we drive out the illegals we will starve to death under leaky roofs.

  2. ponce says:

    Beason is the same guy who recently “apologized” for calling blacks “aborigines” and discussing how to suppress their votes while being recorded by the F.B.I.

  3. mike says:

    Good job Alabama. Way to think it through.

  4. Davebo says:

    A wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the track…

  5. Pete says:

    Maybe Obama can conjure up another jobs bill at 200,000 dollars per job to attract all the ambulance chasers to go into the fields and pick produce. Hell, maybe a stimulus package big enough to attract all the former derivative traders to “head on down.”

  6. EddieInCA says:

    For years many of us have said we need Migrant Workers. The GOP and most Conservatives have replied with “If there weren’t any illegals, Americans would do the work” or “They’re taking American Jobs.”

    Can we finally stop with those two obviously false statements. The problem with most of the GOP/Conservative positions is that they fail in the real world. For the best example, see USA: 2000-2006.

  7. Davebo says:

    The state of Alabama passes a bonehead bill that hurt’s it citizens as well as citizens of other states and Pete decides to bring up Obama.

    It’s this kind of logic we find in the GOP.

  8. mattb says:

    The bigger issue at hand is that we have an entire economic system that is enabled (and maintained) by migrant workers. It’s not simply that they are “willing” to do the work, but that they are willing to do the work at a specific wage level.

    And that wage level is, in large part, not determined by the consumer, but by the retailer. I realize that some might argue that ultimately it’s the consumer that decides. However, that view misses the fact that major national and regional retailers achieved their market dominance through aggressive pricing. And while some of those low prices were reached by streamlining business practices, the majority of the savings was made by forcing providers to sell to retailers at a lower price point (which in turn lowers the wages that the provider can pay).

    Until we are willing to consider how “everyday low prices” tie into the illegal labor market, this is going to continue to be a problem.

  9. MikeSJ says:

    I have no doubt that this farmer, and farmers like him, who will lose thier businesses over this law voted for the Republicans that put this law in effect…and despite the hardships they will face will continue to vote Republican.

    There’s a lesson for them here, but I’m sure they won’t learn it…

  10. samwide says:

    @Pete:

    Don’t be a nitwit, hard as you might find that.

  11. Lit3Bolt says:

    @MikeSJ:

    At least their government will be small! They’ll be on the streets and financially ruined by horrible policy, but they’ll sleep soundly knowing the government, which ruined them, will refuse to help them recover.

  12. HelloWorld! says:

    I don’t belive for one minute that Americans are not willing to do this job for minimum wage. I think farms are intentionally letting their crops go so they can claim they need the cheap labor because Americams won’t do it. Why won’t any reporter follow up with asking these farmers what they are doing to find people to work? Fifty years ago farmers would drive trucks into cities and pick up truckloads of mostly poor African American men and drive them into the country to do this sort of work. Why aren’t farmers working to build a system for doing something like that? I live in a city where anytime I am working in my yard someone asks me if I’ve go work for them. All I had was $7.00 and a guys said he’d take it to move my lawn, trim my bushes, and clean my gutters. He did such a good job I drove to the ATM and got more money for him, but the point is – people do want the work.

  13. ponce says:

    and despite the hardships they will face will continue to vote Republican.

    Just like the Republicans living along the Gulf Coast and in Tornado Alley who will leave their Red Cross shelters to cast their vote for a climate change denying Republican.

    The South is starting to resemble China during Mao’s Great Leap Forward.

  14. mattt says:

    picking vegetables simply isn’t something that Americans are willing to do no matter what the wages might be

    How do you figure that? Seems to me the market for farm labor is telling these farmers they need to pay more in wages – if they want to use legal labor.

    People who want to drive out undocumented workers might just have to learn to pay a little more for their tomatoes.

  15. Barb Hartwell says:

    This has always been a tough issue, I have never had an issue with migrant workers legal or illegal until our country went into a recession. Many American citizens cannot get services because of cuts, but they provide these same services to illegal immigrants. I would think a work visa would be the best solution, but it should be for the workers only.

  16. mattb says:

    @HelloWorld!:

    I live in a city where anytime I am working in my yard someone asks me if I’ve go work for them. All I had was $7.00 and a guys said he’d take it to move my lawn, trim my bushes, and clean my gutters.

    I hope you checked his papers first…

    The problem with the sort of informal system you describe is that it works great for individuals in your situation and rather crappily for business people (aka farmers) who have to make things much more formal for business purposes.

    Additionally, in many places the “cheap labor” pools that you imagine are not necessarily near the food that needs to be harvested. One of the key things about migrant labor is the migration part (i.e. they came to the farmer versus the farmer coming to them). Not to mention that margins on most small farms are so slight as it is that paying for the import of labor (which they couldn’t pass onto the retailer/consumer) would have serious economic ramifications (which I why I keep bringing up the problem of artificially cheap food).

  17. mannning says:

    I cannot excuse any legislator or governor that tries to solve a complex problem exactly half way. There must be provisions made for migrant workers, and the workers themselves must be fully informed of the law, or we will face rotting crops in the fields and destitute farmers more and more.

    The point is taken that most American workers will shun such backbreaking jobs, even unto starving themselves to death or resorting to panhandling, and will hold onto the attitude that to do such work is demeaning, yet they will continue to collect unemployment checks as available, and it is hard to fault them for that! Many are most likely to be physically incapable of handling the work conditions.

    Hence the need for migrant workers that are willing to work the fields at a low wage. A phase-in period for this law would have been appropriate, as well as a clear and lawful migrant worker system instituted in parallel, and a significant publicity campaign to inform all concerned, including the workers.

    There are smart Republicans and there are dumb Republicans: This example is unfortunately not showing any smarts. But, then, I haven’t seen what may be coming down the legislative pike in Alabama either, with unfortunate, if not stupid, timing.

  18. MM says:

    @HelloWorld!: Well, actually another article came out yesterday that explained that A) They pay more than minimum wage and b) some of them have tried to find poor, unemployed americans to do the work.

    End result? They quit. Often before noon.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/05/us/farmers-strain-to-hire-american-workers-in-place-of-migrant-labor.html?_r=1

    Yes, if you want to pay people $40 an hour to pick strawberries, you will get people to pick strawberries. Your strawberries will just be too expensive to sell when compared to the states that still allow migrant workers.

  19. samwide says:

    @mannning:

    I cannot excuse any legislator or governor that tries to solve a complex problem exactly half way. There must be provisions made for migrant workers, and the workers themselves must be fully informed of the law, or we will face rotting crops in the fields and destitute farmers more and more….

    There are smart Republicans and there are dumb Republicans…

    Alas, the dumb ones are in the ascendancy throughout the land.

  20. jan says:

    I think having some kind of guest worker program, with genuine oversight attached to it, is not only necessary but inevitable.

    As for anti-immigration sentiment being only republican, I disagree with that notion. Workers in all trades hold negative views towards the influx of immigrants. Illegals, who are willing to work at lower wages, in non-union shops, directly competing with their jobs, are especially disfavored. However, even though it’s an issue crossing party lines, the dems successfully have attached it more onto the R’s in their attempts to secure yet another special interest constituency. And, apparently it’s working, just like it has in the AA community, and how the DNC is now exploiting the Wall Street protests, politically tying them to the R’s, despite the gigantic Wall Street love affair with Obama in ’08, and his generous reciprocity to them by bailing out bankers afterwards.

    @HelloWorld!:

    As for Americans willing to do farm labor….there might be some who would engage in such back-breaking work. But, IMO the majority of Americans prefer the labor of a ‘hand out’ rather than having their hands picking lettuce or tomatoes. We have become a nation of entitlement-creation, expectations and ‘rights,’ expanding way beyond the ‘inalienable” ones originally created, which are assured to remain in place by the work of social progressive enablers. Ironically, the ‘softness’ Obama has recently referred to is a direct outgrowth, an untoward societal malady, accompanying the very social agenda he and his party supports.

  21. ponce says:

    Workers in all trades hold negative views towards the influx of immigrants.

    China has a migrant labor population of over 200 million people and it has managed to turn that into a massive expansion of its economy.

    America can’t even handle less than 10% of that number of migrant workers.

    One more reason why we should adopt an industrial policy like the Chinese have…before they eat us.

  22. PD Shaw says:

    There is a guest worker program; Doug blogged about it yesterday. In that story, the prevailing wage went up to $10.50 an hour, so the farmer thought he could fill some of the positions cheaper with domestic unemployed. He thought wrong.

    If these tomatoes are so vital to the American economy, the federal government should subsidize the wage differential needed. If not, there is no reason to subsidize uneconomical activity.

  23. mannning says:

    @samwide:

    Alas, the dumb ones are in the ascendancy throughout the land.

    I will not get into an argument as to who these dumb ones are–Republican or Democrat– that you claim are ascendant today, but a quick appraisal of our financial straits, legislative overreach, Judicial dirty tricks, opinions of our (former) foreign friends, gaggles of incompetent leftists streaming into government positions from czars on down, and the drumbeat of serious and critical lies and deceptions being fostered on the public, I would say that there is a truly massive number of dumb Democrats that were conned into voting blindly and stupidly for Obama and mob. He is yet another one-term disaster from the left.

  24. PD Shaw says:

    @mattb: “It’s not simply that they are “willing” to do the work, but that they are willing to do the work at a specific wage level.”

    I agree, though I think I would emphasize that the migrant workers, legal or illegal, are not working for market wages. The migrant here on a visa, unlike his domestic counterpart, can’t walk off the job. He will be deported. For the illegal, its worse. He may not even get paid or may not get paid what was promised.

    And quitting (or threatening to quit) is part of the creation of a wage structure. If quitting is not a feasible option, its akin to slavery, which is your paying to avoid violence and disruptions, not for the value of the services performed.

  25. ponce says:

    I would say that there is a truly massive number of dumb Democrats that were conned into voting blindly and stupidly for Obama and mob. He is yet another one-term disaster from the left.

    I thought the fringe right cult members would stop making these laughable god-like pronouncements in blog comments sections now that their leader Sarah Palin has so artlessly bowed out of the Republican primary.

    Guess not.

  26. Janis Gore says:

    There’s another angle to this. My mother, born 1919, grew up on a farm. She hoed and chopped and picked cotton for the family. Her father was a son-of-a-bitch whom I never knew. He died when I was an infant.

    When she left the farm at 19, she swore she’d never go back to the fields or have one of her children in them .

    Personally, I’d rather pick cotton than rear five boys, or me , for that matter.

    So, in my case, and I’m sure many others, our parents chose that we should live differently,

  27. anjin-san says:

    The GOP vision for America is looking better and better. Luckily my wife has a huge vegetable garden that produces a bumper crop of organic heirloom tomatoes every year.

  28. samwide says:

    @mannning:

    I will not get into an argument as to who these dumb ones are–Republican or Democrat– that you claim are ascendant today

    Yeah, yeah, blah, blah. You were speaking specifically of Republicans and so was I. Stop tap-dancing. The Neanderthals are taking over the GOP, Manning. Make your peace with that.

  29. MM says:

    Shorter mannning: It would a partisan cheap-shot to blame one party or the other, which I am above, unlike you leftist crooks that I’m specifically blaming.

  30. PD Shaw says:

    @Janis Gore: I read a similar observation about how ironic, perhaps tragic, it is for SoCal schools to require students to get in touch with food and agriculture by farming during the school day when so many of the students are there to escape that very fate.

  31. mattb says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I agree, though I think I would emphasize that the migrant workers, legal or illegal, are not working for market wages. The migrant here on a visa, unlike his domestic counterpart, can’t walk off the job. He will be deported. For the illegal, its worse. He may not even get paid or may not get paid what was promised.

    Exactly my point… the price of produce and meat is set at artificially low points by retailers and only able to be maintained there — in most cases — though these sorts of exploitative work practices. Similar things are true in the restaurant industry.

    The issue is that most people think that the low prices is the “market” (in the magic no-liberal sense) setting the “fair” price. What those people fail to see is how there is very little “fair” about this market. Or put a different way, that the unfettered (and unregulated) market can work counter to the good of the worker in situations like these.

  32. Scott O. says:

    picking vegetables simply isn’t something that Americans are willing to do no matter what the wages might be.

    Bullcrap! Try offering $25 an hour and see what happens.

  33. merl says:

    @MikeSJ: And they will keep on voting for Repubs. they get what they voted for

  34. Lyn says:

    The state of Alabama has the right to pass and enforce this law. In that state and many others the costs of illegal immigrants outweigh the benefits of illegal immigrants.

    I’m sorry for those tomato farmers having a hard time. I’m more sorry for taxpayers that get stuck paying for the education of the children of illegals; paying for the incarceration of illegals that drive drunk, commit insurance fraud, rape, and murder; and I’m more sorry for the American workers that are displaced by illegals. Also sorry for Americans who rent to illegals and end up with trashed properties, and for Americans that are injured in wrecks by illegals driving unlicensed and uninsured, and for hospital E.R.’s that treat illegals & NEVER get paid for it…

    As a white American who grew up in Alabama picking squash – never picked tomatoes just squash lots and lots of squash and some pole beans – I can tell you that there are white and other Americans that will pick produce. I’ve seen it done and I’ve done it myself.

  35. Does Alabama with its 9% unemployment rate have a lack of people standing at the cash register with food stamps? How about medicaid? How about federal and state welfare? Are people who are able bodied in the state of Alabama NOT taking MY tax dollars to provide the roof over their heads? As one who pays 40% of my earnings in taxes, I am in awe that we are questioning if these folks should not be called in to help their local community?!

    Does ALabama not have non-violent prisoners in its prison system?

    Is Alabama lacking in spoiled overindulged teenagers?

    Well, I’ll send my whiney 11 year old over for the day and see after a day of picking tomatos for $7.00 per hour if he thinks he is entitled to a new DS…

    Farm work is usually cash on demand, day labor! Or one could actually HIRE as temporary employees people to do this work. These farmers are just pissed that now they might actually have to hire legitimate employees and pay taxes on them!!

    The problem is not that Americans “will not” do this labor, it is that we don’t ASK THEM TO! It is easier in this country to sit on your ass and collect welfare than it is to go out and work! So, we allow people to do it! WE are the problem here folks!

    And as for having sympathy for farmers that are routinely committing FELONIES in their bringing in of illegal labor, sorry to make breaking the law harder on you! NOT!

    We all know that if that food rots on the vine, the government and insurance will step in. If these folks don’t have the forsight to have business interruption insurance, this is not our problem either! More farmers in this country get paid NOT to farm than to farm anyway!

    I see a bunch of people standing around whining! Maybe when prices at the grocery store go up, we all might become aware of the impact of it all and come up with alternate solutions to this issue that do not include hiring people that have a negative impact on the economy as a whole by stealing from us… not just the $7 per hour, but the healthcare, the schooling, the housing and the feeding. But, of course none of you whiners are paying for that, your worrying about the cost of a tomato when I am footing the bill with 40% of my income!

  36. “SUMERTON-Az’ISSUES OF LEGISLATION of ILLEGALS, RESIDENT OR NOT, AND THOSE THAT HAVE NO PAPERS ‘THOSE LIVING OFF OTHER ILLEGALS SSI DISBILITIES MONEYS. THAT ARE NOT QUALIFIED OR LIECENSE TO TO GIVE CARE FOR OR ARE NON MEDICALLY QUALIFIED..TO MEDICAL PATIENTS.. MEJEAL OLIVA, MENTELLY RETARDED, 42 YEAR OLD MAN, SISTER CONDUCTS SEXUAL ACKS TO GAIN MONIES FOR GAMBLING, BOTH ARE ILLEGALS IN THE SAME HOUSE HOLD, ALONG WITH THE MOTHER, AND ANOTHER MAN THAT HAS NO PAPERS WITHIN THE HOUSE IN SUMERTON, ARIZONA…

    THIS NEWS TIP, IS DIRRECTED TO THE ELECTED OFFICALS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, SENaTORS, CONGRESSionAL, HOUSE OF REPRESENITIVES, STATE ELECTED OFFICALS, AND ALL LAW INFORCEMENT AGENCYS WITH IN THE US STATES AND ITS BORDERS.;
    LEGISLATION’S ….ON ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES, OF ILLEGALS, RESIDENT OR NOT, AND THOSE THAT HAVE NO PAPERS;
    Xx

    HOW DOES THE US GOVERNMENT CLEAN UP ITS PEOPLE(IMMIGRANTS-RESIDENT, AND NON RISIDENT , AND THOSE THA

    HAVE NO PAPERS TO BE IN AMERICAN STATES, WHEN LAW INFORCEMENT OFFICERS ARE INGAGING INTO ILLEGALS

    ACTIVITIES, DRUGS, SEXUAL ACT,S WITH MARRIED ILLEGALS, , THE SAME WITH CASINO WORKERS, IN THE SAME….

    x

    It has been mentioned, MENTIONED…/// LEGISLATION SHOULD BE PASSED, WHERE ALL PERSONS WORKING FOR

    CASINOS, OR ANY PUBLIC SERVICE, LIKE CASSINOS HAVE DRUG CLEARANCE CARDS TO HOLD A JOB. AND THEY SHOULD

    BE SUBJECT TO DRUG TESTING.

    ‘and even resident, and non resident illegals should be required to main tain a drug free life, and and

    have thier drug free cards on them at all times.

    note , these new programs , where illegals get amnesty, buy going to colleges free, to relearn english,

    these collages, schools, are funded buy american ta payers, these new students of many ages , are

    dirrictly allowed to mengle with the student populations,

    i say this legislation needs and should be passed, where these illegals or resident illegas, be required

    to pass drug tests at randum, and be required to have on their possion a drug testing card,

    where they are clean from narcotics, or maryjane….., they should be checked at casions of items they

    carry into the casinos,

  37. reba says:

    @HelloWorld!: WRONG! i live here in NC and people would rather csit at home and get food stamps and welfare than work in fields. youre stupid if you think Americans would actually do this work EVERY DAY as a permanent job. Doing odd jobs every now and again when you need a lil extra money is WAY different than taking a job like this as a permanent job!