Southern States Adopt Anti-Immigration Laws

Southern States

A new trend is emerging in America’s southern states, a trend inspired by the controversial Arizona law SB 1070 that requires local and state law enforcement to question suspects about their immigration status. So far, copycat laws have passed the governor’s desk in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. For many, this trend is disturbing and some are comparing it to the southern state-sponsored racism of segregation and Jim Crow laws. But lawmakers in those states defend their decision by claiming that the federal government isn’t doing their job and it is up to the states to enforce immigration laws. Federal courts disagree, however, and the provisions of these laws involving law enforcement have been blocked because they overstep their bounds into federal jurisdiction.

The federal government isn’t the only entity with a problem with these laws. Civil and human rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed civil suits against these states, arguing that they are requiring law enforcement to racially profile individuals, most of which are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. There have been many reports of profiling, particularly from Hispanics. Furthermore, the ACLU and other believe that these laws are simply draconian. Alabama is considered to be the toughest state-level immigration law in the nation with provisions that bring criminal charges against landowners who rent property to illegal immigrants and to those who give an illegal immigrant a ride, considering them in the same category as human traffickers.

Perhaps the biggest concern regarding the passage of Arizona-style immigration law is their economic impact. When Arizona first passed SB 1070, the state lost millions in revenue due to protests across the nation. Entire cities, such as Los Angeles, passed resolutions to boycott Arizona businesses, corporations cancelled lucrative conventions in the state, and tourists avoided traveling there out of dissent. No state so far has felt the financial repercussions as much as Georgia. When Georgia’s Arizona-style law went into effect on July 1, which included a provision requiring all businesses to check the immigration status and employment eligibility of any new employee using the federal database E-Verify, the state suddenly found itself short of agricultural workers by 11,000. Agriculture is Georgia’s biggest industry, famous for its peaches and Vidalia onions. Farmers in that state are estimating that 40 percent of their workforce just up and left as a result of the new immigration law and that they stand to collectively lose between $300 million and $1 billion this year as crops rot in the fields. Georgia blackberry farmer, Gary Paulk, who alone will lose $250,000 this year, has said, "To just pass a law with no research about how its going to affect anybody, to me its just a real shortsightedness on our legislator's part. It's having a lot larger impact not only on me, but also on the state's economy, than anybody ever predicted." Alabama is also reporting labor shortages, all the more ironic considering that these states exhibit higher-than-average unemployment rates.

Despite the controversy and negative economic impact, states continue to propose and pass similar legislation. So far, 30 states have considered these types of laws and 6 have passed them—Arizona, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and Utah.

There is currently a debate in the U.S. congress to mandate E-Verify nationwide, the prospect of which has farmers in all U.S. states nearly sick with panic. Analysts worry that such a move would disqualify between 50 and 70 percent of the nation’s agricultural workers, raise food prices, and send shock waves into all sectors of the economy. Attempts to get unemployed American citizens to take farm jobs have been embarrassingly unsuccessful. A United Farm Workers program called “Take Our Jobs” resulted in 86,000 inquiries and 11 Americans showing up for work. Georgia governor Nathan Deal attempted to offset his state’s 10 percent unemployment rate and the farm labor shortage by getting Georgia criminals on probation to work in the fields. Most walked off the fields within 2 hours.