The tightening noose, the lightening wallet
Oct 17th 2011, 13:43 by J.F. | ATLANTA
ANOTHER month, another court, another plank of Alabama's controversial immigration law enjoined. Last month a federal district court enjoined Alabama from enforcing the most controversial part of its law: the one making it a crime to conceal, harbour or transport illegal immigrants, along with three others related to employment. Last Friday a federal appellate court enjoined another two sections: one that makes it a crime for illegal immigrants not to have proper identity documentation, and another that requires Alabama's public schools to check their students' immigration status. That latter plank reportedly caused hundreds of Latino students to withdraw from Alabama's public schools. Perhaps the law's proponents are happy about this; perhaps they will argue that because their parents brought them to America illegally, they had no claim on any public service (for that same reason, perhaps these students' parents don't deserve water, either).
But I defy them to read this dispatch from Alabama and cheer. One woman is too scared to leave her apartment. Another family flees in the middle of the night, heading for North Carolina because the police followed the father home from work. A law office draws up papers detailing how eight- and ten-year-old children should be cared for if both of their parents should be seized. Students who look Hispanic receive print-outs explaining the harsh new law. These are people living in terror of a government with vastly expanded new powers—and to what end? Let's assume Alabama's crack state troopers had the resources to round up every single undocumented immigrant in Alabama: what would that do? Would it make the state any better off? Its unemployment rate is already high, crops are already rotting in the field; the opportunity exists for unemployed Alabamans to pick them and get paid for it. Apparently, they don't want to. And small wonder, too: it is backbreaking labour (a Georgia field worker who I interviewed for a previous piece—an undocumented immigrant who had been picking onions in Vidalia for 18 years—said that in the entire time he had been working in the fields he had never worked with a white or black person—only with other Latinos). Proponents say that illegal means illegal, and they shouldn't be here anyway. Well, fine. But they are here and they do work that benefits the rest of the state.
As it happens, Georgia's immigration law is slightly less harsh than Alabama's, but also modelled on Arizona's. It passed just before harvest time in a heavily agricultural state. The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association released a report showing economic losses incurred by their members after the law passed. It is depressing, but not surprising. More than 80% of respondents, by acreage, experienced labour shortages of around 40% compared with normal peak-harvest employment, leading to losses in seven spring crops of $75m. Assuming the survey respondents are representative, total statewide losses in those seven crops would be nearly twice that. Factor in goods and services and the total rises to $181m—and again, that is from just seven crops, harvesting of which appears to rely on the labour of undocumented immigrants; that says nothing about other crops, or about Georgia's sizable poultry and construction industries. More than one-third of farmers surveyed plan to decrease acreage in 2012. Why plant it if the crop is just going to rot in the field?
Most of Alabama's immigration law has been upheld, and the enjoined sections will get their day in court too (though it will likely not turn out well for those sections: to have an injunction granted pending appeal, petitioners have to show "a substantial likelihood that they will prevail on the merits of the appeal"). States may well have the right to rigorously enforce federal immigration law, but again, to what end? People (and undocumented immigrants may not be Americans, but they are still people) do not uproot themselves from their country and family to go someplace where they don't speak the language and get paid peanuts just for the fun of it. They do it for economic opportunities that do not exist in their home country. Like it or not they are a part of America's labour market. Simply removing them may be legal, but it is a demonstrably bad idea. Just ask Georgia's farmers.
Rodrigo González Fernández
Diplomado en "Responsabilidad Social Empresarial" de la ONU
Diplomado en "Gestión del Conocimiento" de la ONU
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