Thursday, September 29, 2011


That was the advice from an Alabama sweet potato grower in light of the state's tough new immigration law. Farmers and food processors all across Alabama are predicting losses in the many millions of dollars.

The sentiment among Alabama's farmers is summed by by this one grower, making reference to the Hispanic farm workers who have done most of the harvesting in all of the major crops:

“These people will do work that local people won’t do, you know?” said Baldwin County farmer, Joel Sirmon. “They’re hard workers ... don’t cause no problem. We’ve had to advertise for labor, and we’ve got U.S. citizens in here. They work an hour or two, but they can’t do what the migrant workers do.”

Sirmon said many of his workers started leaving at the beginning of September. Now, with the passing of the immigration law, his situation will only get worse.

“We have fifteen in the packing house and nobody showed up this morning, so I don’t know if that’s because of the law or what, you know?” he said.

Many Americans look to simplistic solutions to try to deal with our broken immigration system, but they don't understand the much larger picture. Our country has a dreadful labor inbalance, especially in industries such as agriculture, hotels and motels, restaurants, construction, and many service industries.

Laws such as those passed in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia aim to eliminate undocumented peoples in a way that demeans their human value and their needed hands and energies to perform jobs that other Americans refuse to take.

The Fresno Bee stated last year in an editorial:

"Some experts predict that the system will always be broken because too many people don't want change -- even if they say they do. Farmers get cheap labor, illegal immigrants get jobs, consumers pay less for services. No one wants to make difficult reforms that would disrupt this balance."

The Alabama sweet potato farmer got it right, but few of us are willing to listen: "If you stop eating, the immigrants will leave." We have gotten used to the relatively low food prices we pay as Americans; low because our food production is subsidized by immigrant workers.

As a nation built generation after generation by immigrants, we need to seek common ground through civil discourse to understand our need for workers in all types of jobs, and to seek fair and workable solutions to meet these needs. Undocumented workers aren't a problem to be fixed by rounding them up and deporting them; they are the backbone of thousands of businesses across the country. They deserve and need our respect, our understanding, and our resolve to fix an inadequate immigration system.