MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Alabama’s strict new immigration law may be backfiring. Intended to force illegal workers out of jobs, it is also driving away many legal immigrant workers who work in construction and on farms doing backbreaking jobs that Americans generally won’t.
The vacancies have created a void that will surely deal a blow to the state’s economy and could slow the rebuilding of Tuscaloosa and other tornado-damaged cities.
Employers believe they can carry on because of the dismal economy, but when things do turn around, they worry there won’t be anyone around to hire. Many legal Hispanic workers are fleeing the state because their family and friends don’t have the proper papers and they fear they will be jailed.
Rick Pate, the owner of a commercial landscaping company in Montgomery, lost two of his most experienced workers, who were in the country legally. He spent thousands of dollars training them to install irrigation systems at places like the Hyundai plant.
“They just feel like there is a negative atmosphere for them here. They don’t feel welcome. I don’t begrudge them. I’d feel nervous, too,” Pate said.