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Entries in Migrant Workers (1)

Tuesday
Jul122011

Alabama Anti-Immigration Law the Bane of Farmers' Agricultural Existence

Photos dot com/Thinkstock(HUNTSVILLE, Ala.) -- Civil rights attorneys and activists have sued to block an Alabama law that they claim would usurp federal immigration rules and position commercial farmers to replace migrant workers with employer-sponsored guest workers who would be relegated to a kind of indentured servitude.

Farmers also are protesting the measure, which trails a week-old Georgia law that makes presenting false documents to secure a job a felony.

The Alabama law, approved last month and set to take effect Sept. 1, bars undocumented immigrants from enrolling in or attending college and applying for or soliciting work. It restricts landlords from renting property to the undocumented, and requires school districts to determine the immigration status of schoolchildren.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Huntsville Friday, claims the Alabama law is of "unprecedented reach."

The lawsuit said, "Individuals who may be perceived as 'foreign' by state or local law enforcement agents will be in constant jeopardy of harassment and unlawfully prolonged detention by state law enforcement officers."

Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the lead groups in the coalition that filed the suit, said, "This law revisits the state's painful racial past and tramples the rights of all Alabama residents. It should never become the law of the land."

The Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson, a Huntsville preacher-activist and filmmaker, took issue with the provisions in the law affecting school children. "The idea of parents having to provide information on their own children -- and you do have parents who are here legally but their children are not -- is just a bad idea," she said.

Farmers in Alabama and Georgia have dismissed the new laws as unduly harsh and threatening to the region's migrant-dependent agricultural economy. "Farmers are law-abiding citizens," said Jeff Helm, spokesman for the Alabama Farmers Federation, which represents 48,000 farmers. "They want to do what is right."

"But they are concerned, one, that even the workers who are here legally would flee the state out of concern for what the law means. And, two, farmers [want assurance] that if they follow the law, but there's some breakdown in the system, that they won't suffer criminal repercussions....We believe these issues are better handled at the federal level."

Filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, the class-action suit also lists as plaintiffs the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, the National Immigration Law Center, the Asian Law Caucus and the Asian American Justice Center. The collective calls Alabama's the most extreme of what are now five sweeping anti-immigration state laws. Others have passed in Utah, Indiana and Arizona. All are being challenged in court.

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