Ala. Commission Hears From Businesses on Immigration

Thu December 06, 2007 - Southeast Edition
CEG



MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) A state task force developing recommendations about illegal immigration heard pleas Oct. 31 from business owners who can’t find enough American workers and an Alabama construction worker who can’t find a decent paying job.

The Joint Patriotic Immigration Commission was created by the Legislature to come up with recommendations by February. Its first public hearing was filled with emotional stories from business owners who want a guest worker program and others who say illegal immigrants are taking Americans’ jobs by working for depressed wages.

Construction worker Thomas Lawrimore of Falkville complained that he used to make $18 to $20 per hour, but now is unemployed due to companies hiring illegal immigrants willing to work cheaper.

His wife, June, said she understands that illegal immigrants enter the country to pursue the American dream, but a lack of work has put her family at risk of losing its house.

“That American dream has turned into an American nightmare for me,” she said.

David Roberson, president of Cavalier Homes in Addison, said the company can’t find enough domestic employees to fill the 1,500 jobs at its four plants in Alabama.

“We see a much better ethic and work force coming from the Hispanic population,” he said.

He said sending all illegal immigrants in Alabama home would devastate the state’s economy.

Carole Barton of Barton’s Greenhouse and Nursery in Alabaster said her business uses seven immigrants provided by an employee leasing business. She said she would like to have American workers, but can’t find people willing to do the tough outdoor work, even though the pay is about twice the minimum wage.

“For every American who applies at our business, we probably have 50 immigrants knock on our door,” she said.

Jerry Newby, president of the Alabama Farmers Federation, told the committee that the state’s farmers need foreign help to harvest their crops and operate their nurseries.

“What we need is a guest worker program where the farmers and other industries are not held responsible when someone does get in,” Newby said.

State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks estimated Alabama has 52,000 illegal immigrants, but he urged the committee to look to Congress, rather than the Legislature, for a solution.

“We do not need patchwork proposals state by state,” he said.

Wayne Funk, leader of the Montgomery area chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Force, recounted helping his group patrol the Texas-Mexico border and seeing illegal immigrants dashing through fields.

“I’m looking for a government that will enforce its laws,” he said.

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice urged the committee to go slow because federal law limits what states can do on immigration issues. Both groups warned the commission to expect litigation if Alabama tries to restrict the federal rights of immigrants.

The public hearing had been the only one scheduled by the commission. But after Huntsville talk radio show host Dale Jackson complained that it was difficult for average citizens to get to a public hearing during a work day in Montgomery, the committee voted to hold three more hearings across the state at night or on Saturdays.

The commission’s chairman, Jay Reed, vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama, said the hearings will likely be in November or early December in north Alabama, the Birmingham area, and south Alabama.