Unconstitutional, unworkable, or politically unsustainable
December 19, 2013 7:30 PM   Subscribe

In 2011, Alabama passed perhaps the country's toughest immigration law, seeking to push undocumented immigrants out (previously). In October 2013, the state agreed to permanently block major portions of the law in response to lawsuits. Two years on, popular opinion and political momentum have largely turned against the law, and the immigrants are mostly still there.
posted by Chrysostom (22 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
As an Asian immigrant, I suppose I should take some solace in the fact that they were arresting Europeans as well.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:46 PM on December 19, 2013


I was living there when discussion on this was going on and kept track of it. It was a textbook example of "be careful what you wish for." Once it passed, they discovered that all those Hispanic farmworkers that were going to leave or be driven out weren't going to be around to pick produce in the fields anymore and American citizens weren't racing to take these brutally hard farming jobs. Apparently, they really did think that there were all these Americans just dying to take them. Then produce began rotting on the vines and the very farmers that had backed it suddenly realized hey wait, we're going to lose a shitload of money if we insist on doing this and it turned unpopular as quickly as it had once been popular with the very people that had backed it the most.

Anyone with a hint of common sense could've told them this would happen but some people are always trying to ice skate uphill. And that's the takeaway, they really do believe their own bullshit, even when it flies in the face of the very economics they claim to champion.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:07 PM on December 19, 2013 [21 favorites]


This is the result of two factors working together: legislatures, unable to move forward on real topics, desperately seek imaginary topics to show progress on; the right, always looking for someone to blame, is running out of targets. Blacks? Out. Gays? Out. Immigrants!

Someone smarter than me could probably predict the next idea like this that well inevitably arise.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:15 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparently, they really did think that there were all these Americans just dying to take them.

It's worth mentioning that the farms in question aren't racing to hire Americans, either.

One of the great things about hiring undocumented workers is that they don't have standing to sue for illegally low pay or hazardous working conditions. This isn't about Americans not being willing to do hard work, it's about industrial farms not being willing to pay minimum wage and provide a first-world level of safety in their working environment.
posted by mhoye at 8:17 PM on December 19, 2013 [47 favorites]


industrial farms not being willing to pay minimum wage

Most agricultural worker positions are exempt from the minimum wage. In any case, migrants are often paid above minimum wage. What they aren't paid is a market wage, much less a living wage.
posted by jedicus at 8:20 PM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South (Southern Poverty Law Center)
posted by threeants at 8:21 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone with a hint of common sense could've told them this would happen but some people are always trying to ice skate uphill

Yeah, I'm still here and it definitely went down just like you said. I am even 'fortunate' enough to be in the state senate district of notorious racist and major proponent of stupid immigration law Scott Beason, who just tonight broke a long twitter silence to make sure we knew he was on a certain side of the imagined culture war involving some bigoted hick from a reality show about hicks.
posted by ndfine at 8:26 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In any case, migrants are often paid above minimum wage. What they aren't paid is a market wage, much less a living wage.

The way you describe it, I would say the migrant labor is paid a market wage.

No surprise about the fallout of the moronic law.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:39 PM on December 19, 2013


mhoye: One of the great things about hiring undocumented workers is that they don't have standing to sue for illegally low pay or hazardous working conditions. This isn't about Americans not being willing to do hard work, it's about industrial farms not being willing to pay minimum wage and provide a first-world level of safety in their working environment.

Yeah, any time someone says 'We can't find any workers' you should mentally append 'at the non-competitive wages we're offering'.

Plus, you can't expect the labor market to adjust instantly. You are not going to kick out the old farm workers and immediately have a bunch of experienced new ones with no effort or delay. Most non-immigrants barely know those jobs exist, and consider them totally off their radar. You'd have to advertise, get it into the public consciousness, offer enough money to get a few takers, let them tell their friends it isn't horrible, and let the community adjust. In five to ten years the market would probably have experienced significant recovery, if people were willing to pay enough to make it attractive.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:40 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


In five to ten years the market would probably have experienced significant recovery, if people were willing to pay enough to make it attractive.

But doesn't standard economics say that the Alabama farmers paying more money to American workers, would lose out to farmers in neighboring states who are able to hire the immigrants at even lower rates (due to the influx of ex-Alabama workers)? That giant sucking sound you hear is Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee.

OTOH, if someone could keep anti-immigrant fervor whipped up in Alabama long enough, the farmers there would be out-competed into bankruptcy, and one could acquire their assets for a song. Then kick out the politicos and let the immigrants back in. Profit!
posted by spacewrench at 8:53 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ala-fucking-Bama. We cain't help it, y'all. There are absolutely zero incentives in place for competent governance. Everyone's brother-in-law's cousin's uncle has a stake in the status quo, and the Big Mules figured out post-Wallace that black stooges are as easy to elect as white stooges, so any flicker of roots-up progressivism is smothered in the cradle.

Here's how bad the whole state has gotten: Birmingham (BIRMINGHAM!) is lookin' pretty good these days by comparison. The Accepted Narrative is that Birmingham died when David Vann (God bless his doughy little soul) and All Those Libruls handed the city over to Richard Arrington, a milquetoast and only moderately corrupt black mayor, and that was Way Back When And Things Only Got Worse Because Black People Run The Whole Damn City Now so Birmingham is a hellpit of wild-eyed young black men and stone-faced middle-aged bureaucrats on the take. This is only HALF TRUE, as I know many young black men who are distinctly NOT wild-eyed.

The rest of the state is SO BAD that BIRMINGHAM is lookin' good, y'all.

We got us a little real estate boom going on downtown, which is nice, and some old neighborhoods coming back, and people moving into converted office space downtown, and this is all happening while Jefferson County implodes around us.

Jefferson County.

Where all the scared white folks who couldn't afford Shelby County moved to when they left the horrible horrible blackitude of Birmingham.

Bankrupt.

LOL.


The immigration law was never about addressing issues related to immigration, employment, or anything substantive. It was a bunch of self-serving dickheads writing grandstanding legislation to get re-elected, knowing the whole time that it'd play out in court and a buncha Birmingham and Montgomery lawyers could pay off the second mortgage on their lake houses with holla holla tax dollas.

Such. As. It. Ever. Was.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:57 PM on December 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


spacewrench: But doesn't standard economics say that the Alabama farmers paying more money to American workers, would lose out to farmers in neighboring states who are able to hire the immigrants at even lower rates (due to the influx of ex-Alabama workers)? That giant sucking sound you hear is Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Yeah, that could happen if the price of paying the workers more ended up requiring a significant rise in the cost of the finished product. The data I've seen suggests it's not, but I don't know for sure.

Of course, the farms in Alabama could start some sort of advertising campaign based on their non-use of illegal immigrants and try to sell to the anti-immigration market if they wanted. Hard to know if the positives would outweigh the backlash, though.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:57 PM on December 19, 2013


Don't open your eyes you won't like what you see
The devils of truth steal the souls of the free
Don't open your eyes take it from me
I have found
You can find
Happiness is slavery. . .
NSFW
posted by isopraxis at 10:34 PM on December 19, 2013


And to think the backlash against undocumented workers all began back in '05 as a hollow craven GOP diversionary reframe away from dick and scooter's fetid little mess about Ms. Plaime.
A 180 degree sea change from the pro-mexican plank Georgie proudly ran for office with.
posted by Fupped Duck at 11:25 PM on December 19, 2013


According to Alabama’s education department, the number of Hispanic students rose last year even as the overall student population declined. That wasn’t the plan. Proponents of the law had wanted to decrease the Spanish-speaking population, complaining that immigrant children were dragging down the school system.

...

“My daughter’s American and she had a scholarship to go to a state university, but we couldn’t let her go and she lost it,” said Rebecca Maciel, who moved to Alabama 17 years ago with her husband. “If they picked us up who would take care of her siblings?”

Vincente Gonzales blamed the law for forcing his wife out of a job after her employer cracked down on undocumented hires. Unable to work his usual construction jobs due to failing kidneys, Gonzales said his son also deferred acceptance at a state university to help support the family.


Emphasis added. This is how you create a permanent underclass.

The sooner this law completely crumbles to pieces, the better.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:04 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


This isn't about Americans not being willing to do hard work, it's about industrial farms not being willing to pay minimum wage and provide a first-world level of safety in their working environment.

One of the interesting things about manual farm work (stoop work, picking tree fruit, pruning, etc) is how little it has changed, compared to factory work or mining, say. The easy farm mechanization has been done, so you don't see lines of people in fields with sickles and scythes anymore, but a lot of it is hard to mechanize and for political reasons the conditions of that work have been left largely untouched.

While it isn't hard to find Americans who want to work in a modern automobile factory at high wages, protected overtime, and with full OSHA oversight, it would be hard to find US citizens interested in an 1850-style factory or mine, working 12 hour days and everyone missing a couple of fingers and coughing up pieces of lung.

So why would we be surprised that those same US citizens aren't interested in working under 1850s-style farm conditions? Harvest work means very long days and weekend work, with no overtime, very little worker safety protections, and a surprisingly high accident rate.

In fairness to the farmers (and this is in no way limited to industrial farms -- small family operations are living with the same financial realities), there's no way the American consumer is interested in having food prices reflect modern work conditions. You could find US farm workers if apple picking paid $27/hr plus overtime and full benefits, but no one would buy that apple.

For what it's worth, farm work in this area (a long way from Alabama) pays well over the minimum wage, but not nearly as much as if the farmers had to find ways to attract American workers. (And the hourly wage is deceptively high -- you only earn while the work is happening, so bad weather or any other issue means you are sitting at home not earning a penny.) If you have citizenship or a work visa, there are far easier ways to earn the same or better money, maybe get benefits, and keep all your fingers attached.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:20 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


But doesn't standard economics say that the Alabama farmers paying more money to American workers, would lose out to farmers in neighboring states who are able to hire the immigrants at even lower rates (due to the influx of ex-Alabama workers)? That giant sucking sound you hear is Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Well, one possible outcome would be that the Alabama economy would transition away from low-margin farming to other, higher-margin businesses, agricultural or otherwise. But that likely wasn't what the politicians had in mind. If you make it easy to make money off of low-wage labor, then there will be an economic bias in favor of businesses that thrive off of low-wage labor.

One of the interesting things about manual farm work (stoop work, picking tree fruit, pruning, etc) is how little it has changed, compared to factory work or mining, say. The easy farm mechanization has been done, so you don't see lines of people in fields with sickles and scythes anymore, but a lot of it is hard to mechanize and for political reasons the conditions of that work have been left largely untouched.

Is it possible that the political support for importing low wage labor (either as guest workers or turning a blind eye towards immigrants coming here illegally) has kept farming in this 19th-century level of mechanization and dependence on this kind of manual labor?
posted by deanc at 5:52 AM on December 20, 2013


Is it possible that the political support for importing low wage labor (either as guest workers or turning a blind eye towards immigrants coming here illegally) has kept farming in this 19th-century level of mechanization and dependence on this kind of manual labor?

I doubt it is a single factor. In the farmer's favor, there are some basic differences between farm work and factory work -- when the fruit is ripe, it needs to be picked NOW, and the rest of the year a lot less labor is needed. And, a lot of crops have turned out to be very hard to mechanize. So you need a labor regime that provides a lot of reserve laborers at specific times, but without having to pay them the rest of the year. For decades that was partly solved by laborers moving from area to area following the crop cycles, but purely anecdotally I'm seeing less of that labor movement and more of people staying in one place and using farm work as one component of a seasonal mix of work.

But over and above than, absolutely yes, there has been significant and long-standing pressure from agriculture to maintain access to migrant labor with limited work protections. The interesting thing about the Alabama law (at least in articles I saw about it, since I don't live there) was that agriculture was against it but turned out to not have the political power to stop it. So there was a change there that reflects shifting political patterns in the South. I think there was also an idea that the needed labor would come from unemployed citizens and welfare recipients, spurred by cutting benefits, but I don't think that the pieces ever really fit together or were particularly serious.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:02 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it possible that the political support for importing low wage labor (either as guest workers or turning a blind eye towards immigrants coming here illegally) has kept farming in this 19th-century level of mechanization and dependence on this kind of manual labor?

19th century level of mechanization was actually pretty high. That was the century of the the Cotton Gin, mechanical reaper, and mechanical thresher (never mind such 20th century innovations as the combine harvester). What can be mechanized has been mechanized, but some things (chickens) require hand labor.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:10 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


A while back I was on a committee looking at technology transfer efforts by USDA's Agricultural Research Service (disclaimer: I work for ARS). Some of the mechanical systems were amazing, and if it were possible to mechanize the crops that are hand-harvested in an economically viable manner it would have been done already. (Have you seen the citrus harvesters that shake the fruit from the trees?!) Maybe one day there will be swarms of little robot pickers that can interact with the plants the way humans can.
posted by wintermind at 7:34 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


For decades that was partly solved by laborers moving from area to area following the crop cycles, but purely anecdotally I'm seeing less of that labor movement and more of people staying in one place and using farm work as one component of a seasonal mix of work.

That's interesting. I worked on a strawberry farm in Canada in 2002. The labour pool consisted of, in roughly these portions: high school kids doing this for something to do (50%), first gen immigrants (25%) and migrant worker nationals (25%). This was the summer, of course, so I imagine those proportions change a lot during school months. A lot of the immigrants were themselves migrant workers, too. Maybe Canada's immigration policy has a parallel effect on how agriculture is done.

Oh, the pay was shit, too: $1 per basket.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:49 AM on December 20, 2013


It's getting tougher and tougher to be a racist these days. But it's still not impossible.
posted by tommasz at 12:57 PM on December 21, 2013


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