This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Alabama, with the toughest immigration law in the country, should serve as a testing ground for a number of widely held beliefs about illegal immigrants and their value to or drain on the nation's economy.
Chief among those beliefs, or myths, as they might be proven to be, is that undocumented workers are taking jobs away from Americans.
If the situation in Alabama continues as it has since the law went into effect in June, that theory is about to be blown out of the water by the reality that Americans simply don't want the jobs the undocumented are filling.
Take agriculture, for example. When produce pickers left in droves to avoid being harassed and possibly deported by Alabama law enforcement officers, farmers were left with potatoes and tomatoes rotting in the fields. While some citizen workers gave the back-breaking work a try, not many of them stuck with it.
Many unemployed Americans, it seems, want jobs, but not the kind that require filling produce boxes to the tune of $2 for a 25-pound box. The illegal workers, who have the experience, skill and ambition, can earn from $200 to $300 a day. At one farm a crew of 25 citizens filled just 200 boxes, and each took home just $24.
One tomato farmer told Associated Press reporters he has never been able to keep a staff of Americans in his 25 years on the farm. "They'd work one day and then just never show up again."
Workers, mostly Mexicans who come to this country do so with every intention of staying on the job, because they have to. They know how to work hard with their hands, a skill many Americans have never mastered.
Many, maybe even most, American families have at least one member who is unemployed. The young high school and college students and recent graduates form a large contingent of the long-term unemployed. But how many of them are willing to pick tomatoes, or clean toilets and empty trash, wash dishes and swab floors? Not many in Alabama, it appears.
Farm and service industries need workers, and immigrants need jobs. It is shameful that, in this country, we force the undocumented to work in the shadows, without protection or rights, and harass them at every turn.
They deserve to be given at least guest worker status under a federal immigration law that makes sense. Enforcement-only laws like Alabama's and Utah's HB497 do not.