NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. After Governor Jan Brewer signed Arizona's controversial immigration law, five other states enacted similar legislation, and if the U.S. Supreme Court rules to uphold all or parts of the law this summer, several more may follow the same model.
While court orders stopped enforcement of the law in Arizona, some or all of the new immigration laws are in effect in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Utah and Indiana, and they've changed things for farmers, businesses, schools, for law enforcement and, of course, for immigrants - illegal and otherwise.
If you live in one of those states, call and tell us how it's affected your life, your job and your community. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, Syria on The Opinion Page this week in an argument that the U.S. has abandoned its responsibilities there. But first: the intended and unintended consequences of state immigration laws. We begin with Dick Minor, partner at Minor Produce, a family-owned farm, also president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. He joins us by phone from his farm in Andersonville, Georgia. Nice to have you with us today.
DICK MINOR: Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
CONAN: And what's happened since Georgia's immigration law took effect last July?
MINOR: Well, actually it started before it took effect in July, when they passed it at the end of the session. There's quite a bit of stir about it on the media, so we had immediate impact of workers not wanting to come to Georgia out of fear of being targeted for immigration. And we really suffered through a tough season last spring in trying to attract workers to come harvest our crops.
CONAN: So these would be migrant workers who go around and pick crops as they ripen in the fields in various places?
MINOR: That's right. Most of our harvest labor travels up and down the East Coast, usually starts in South Florida and moves up through Georgia and then up through North Carolina, all the way up past into upper-state New York, Upstate New York, and harvests crops all year then works their way back down to end up back in South Florida for the winter season.
CONAN: And what percentage would you estimate did not come to Georgia this past...?
MINOR: Well, we didn't - we couldn't estimate how many people didn't come, but our association commissioned a survey to be done, and we figured after the results of that survey were tabulated that we were about 40 percent short for the workers needed to harvest the crop.
CONAN: And what effect did that have on your business?
MINOR: Well, in that same survey, done by the University of Georgia, we estimated crop revenues, a loss of about $140 million. And by the time you take the multiplier effect, we figured it was somewhere roughly about $390 million lost economic activity in our state.
CONAN: And the - some people would say: Why didn't you just offer to pay more, and more people would show up?
MINOR: Well, first of all, the fallacy that we're using cheap labor is not true. I mean, we pay these people pretty well. Also that just anybody can come do this job is also a misnomer. We consider these people skilled workers because they are pretty much professional harvesters, and they're even skilled to particular crops.
So people harvesting watermelons may not be able to pick peaches, and people picking blueberries may not be able to pick peppers. So certain crews that work in certain crops, and they do that year-round, as you know it's very tough work. It's very tough conditions - long hours. You've got to be in really good physical shape. You've got to know the process of harvesting crops.
And in order to make good money, because so much of it's done paid by the piece, and when I say good money, I'm talking about $15 to $20 an hour, you've got to be really proficient at the job. So we could offer locals or domestic workers more money. They still haven't had a track record of being able to do the work in a timely manner and - nor do they want to do the work.
I mean, we have them come out here, but they usually don't stay. They don't stay more than a day or two, and they're off to find another job.
CONAN: And what are you going to do this year?
MINOR: Well, a lot of people have tried to use the H-2A program. We've probably got a record enrollment in H-2A. In fact, we've gotten to the point where the paperwork is almost bogging down the process. A lot of the smaller growers have elected not to plant as many crops or to plant any crops. And so it's kind of a wait-and-see.
We are - a survey told us that total acres dedicated to specialty crops in Georgia this year will be down significantly.
CONAN: The government of Georgia created a program to use parolees as farm laborers. Has that worked out?
MINOR: It hasn't worked out. I was actually one of the test farms that we did that on, and we tried to make it work. It runs into the same problem of using any other domestic workforce: They're just not skilled in the technique to harvest the crop, nor are they physically able to do that work.
I mean, you have to imagine being in 100-degree days for 10 hours, and, you know, very physically demanding work, stooping down, running, lifting. You've got to be, sort of, trained, almost like an athlete. You've got to be trained to be able to do it, and we offered open employment to them all summer long, and we had just a constant turnstile of people coming and going.
And nobody was excited about doing it. A lot of them did it for several days, but none of them lasted.
CONAN: Now, agriculture is the biggest part of the Georgia economy. I assume you have people who will listen to you when you call, and what's been the response when you call the state legislature, your representatives and your state senators?
MINOR: We've had really no response. It's not a new issue for us. We have been - as an association have been working on it for 12, over 12 years. It's the number one issue that we sit down and talk about at meetings. It's very important. It's the heart of our organization is to have a labor force here to get these harvested. Without them, we don't have an industry.
And it - pretty much all of our comments and objections to this legislation to the legislature pretty much fell on deaf ears. And I think they had a political agenda, they were going to accomplish it, and they didn't really think about the impacts of - on the economy of our state or especially on agricultural industry.
But it's not just agriculture. It's all the service industries: construction, hospitality. You know, a lot of this labor is being used every day here in the state and all across the country.
CONAN: Dick Minor, thanks very much for your time, appreciate it.
MINOR: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Dick Minor, a partner of Minor Produce, as well as the president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, with us today by phone from his farm in Andersonville, Georgia. Republican Gerald Dial is the acting majority whip in the Alabama state senate, and he's proposed changes to part of that state's immigration law, and he joins us now by phone from the road outside of Montgomery, Alabama. Senator, nice of you to be with us today.
STATE SENATOR GERALD DIAL: Thank you very much, it's a pleasure to be with you. It's a beautiful day in Alabama, a little warm, but it's beautiful.
CONAN: Well, what changes need to be made in Alabama's law?
DIAL: Well, the attorney general, early on, put out list of 12 things that he felt he could not defend in the court. And so we took those 12 ideas that he brang - came forward with and provided to all the legislatures and encompassed this into a bill. Our bill just has, like a lot of other bills, it had really unintended consequences. And not only did it address a lot of the illegal issues, it addressed a lot of issues that placed undue hardships on citizens who's lived here for five and six generations, and going down and getting their tags and getting their driver's licenses renewed and getting business licenses renewed.
And so we took the attorney general's 12 recommendations, and we added three of our own. We added the part where it required the schools to check the legality of their students. Our teachers tell us they're teachers, not policemen, and there are other organizations to do that. So we included that in our bill.
And another thing we added to our bill was the fact that we allow (unintelligible) - from experiences I had, we allow, in our bill, to use your military ID to prove proof of citizenship. And then we took out the part where you - if you're renewing a license, you don't have to prove citizenship. So those are some of the major issues we've addressed in our bill that we've introduced.
And I know there's two other bills floating around out there, and so I guess all of this will come to the floor of the Senate, probably the end of this week, or first of next week.
CONAN: I understand there's also a recommendation from the attorney general, don't change anything until the Supreme Court rules. So we've going to have to see how this all works out. But this would not address, as I understand it, complaints by people like Dick Minor, who say their people - he's obviously in Georgia, you're in Alabama - but I assume you have farmers and other...
DIAL: Yeah, same thing, and I've heard the same thing. We've investigated the process of letting Alabama set up a red card program where we could have workers come in and register. But you can't circumvent a national - the federal law with a state law that lets illegals be here, and that's what this does.
If you're here illegal, then you're here illegal, whether you're doing the jobs in the fields or whether you're doing the jobs at the restaurants and those other things. And until the federals step up and provide a better mechanism to allow those people to come in and work and have more green cards, then we're going to continue to have the problem he recommended.
I cannot fix that on the state level. If you're illegal, you're illegal, and until the federal government changes that. What we've done in Alabama, we've made people aware that there were illegals, and we made some of the stringent things on illegals tougher, and therefore some have left, but some have not. But that's a - as we say in the military, a pay grade above what we can do in the Alabama legislature.
CONAN: What about the effect on tourism? Have people been staying - sometimes Alabama can get an unfortunate reputation, going back to the old civil rights days, you worked hard to change that around. Now I wonder if some people wonder if Alabama's a mean-spirited place.
DIAL: Well, and unfortunately that's happened to us. I've worked 30 years in the legislature to try to overcome that terrible image we had back in the '50s, and we've gone a long way to do that. And we're a very diverse state, and Alabamians are caring, loving and compassionate people. You see that in what happens when you have tornadoes, and we just celebrated - or we didn't celebrate, but we just recognized the - it's been a year ago since we had the devastating tornado in Alabama, in Tuscaloosa and other parts of north and central Alabama that was one of the worst in the history of the United States.
And so we saw the outpouring of people from all over. And unfortunately, this has given those people who would like to use that as a negative against us. And it's probably, it's damaged our image, and I really think it's one of the worst things that's happened. It's showed us as, not what we are, but it let people portray us as not being a loving, caring people like we are.
And I really hate that that came out. And it's probably also affecting us not on tourism but on industrial recruiting. We're probably running into some of that. It's not surface, but people are not going to say they're not coming here because of that.
But everything being equal, they're probably going to go somewhere else.
CONAN: Senator, thanks very much for your time, good luck with that bill.
DIAL: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Senator Gerald Dial, a Republican and the acting majority whip in the Alabama State Senate. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. As we await a Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's tough immigration law, it's expected later this summer, we're talking about similar laws enacted in other states - Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah - and what's changed.
If you live in one of those states, call and tell us how it's affected your life, your job and your community, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's see if we can get Bob(ph) on the line. Bob's with us from Birmingham in Alabama.
BOB: Hey, how are you all doing?
CONAN: Good, thanks.
BOB: I guess my comment is that I've got a brother and a father in the construction industry, and their observation is that the state law has made local contractors less competitive. Not only do they have labor shortages, but they can't compete at the price that other contractors, from out of state, that are playing, you know, by different rules are able to do. And so it's having a real depressing effect, you know, on the construction industry, as well as agricultural and hospitality.
CONAN: Construction industry in Alabama, it's in tough shape across the country, I assume it's in tough shape there, too.
BOB: Oh yes, sir. I think maybe even a little more so. The local paper ran, I guess, a story about it this last weekend, something around 25 percent unemployment rate. And, you know, I think my family's observation is quite astute, that the law is actually contributing to that, you know, and making it worse than it would be otherwise.
CONAN: I look at the opinion polls in Alabama, and the people are overwhelmingly in favor of this legislation.
BOB: I can't answer for everybody in the state, you know.
CONAN: Yeah, I understand. Bob, thanks very much for the call.
BOB: Thank you, love the show.
CONAN: Thank you. Let's see if we can go next to - this is John(ph), John with us from Sierra Vista in Arizona.
JOHN: Hello, Mr. Conan, thanks for putting me on. I was talking to a screener, and I was going to comment on the papers please aspect of the law, the 1070 in Arizona.
CONAN: Yeah, that's not taken effect in Arizona because of the injunction, but go ahead.
JOHN: Yeah, as of yet it, hasn't or may not. But a lot of the turmoil about that, the papers please, is if you look at any immigration document, if you read the Immigration and Naturalization Act, they all actually say on there, I mean it's printed, must be carried at all times. It's not really an undue hardship, the same with your driver's license. You know, if you're in the car, and you get pulled over, you have to present your driver's license.
And I've seen, you know, nationally local law enforcement agencies, state, county, whatnot, you know, they oftentimes run into this kind of stuff and call us because a lot of the undocumented, illegal aliens - whatever you want to call them - you know, they're in a vehicle or whatnot, they can't provide identification.
And also on a side note, as a previous caller, if you were to come anywhere in southern Arizona - and I surmise, Texas, New Mexico, many other places, you can just sit at the border, and you can just watch them coming north. You know, it's like an unending stream.
If you go to a hospital, you know, the emergency room is full of them, undocumented people without licenses, insurance, just driving all over the place. It's just one of those things that's a lot more condensed and more in-your-face down here than a lot of places, and I don't think people maybe understand that as much as they should.
CONAN: When you say professionally, how do you...?
JOHN: First of all, I'm in law enforcement.
CONAN: You're in law enforcement. So you're not concerned when you are called upon to enact this? I've heard some in law enforcement say, you know, we don't have enough trust in this community to begin with. If we're starting to act as immigration agents, there's going to be even less trust, people aren't going to report crimes to us or help us investigate crimes.
JOHN: Well, on a state and local level - I'm federal, so we wouldn't actually be necessarily first-line, you know, affected by it. But it's one of those things - I don't know if people think that, you know, the state and local law enforcement, they're just going to go door-to-door and ask for your, you know, papers like they're in "Schindler's List."
It's in accordance with any other, you know, law enforcement interaction, whether it be speeding or a traffic accident or something along those lines. The first thing that happens if you get pulled over by a policeman is: Sir, do you have your driver's license? Do you have your license? Do you have your registration. If you just can't provide any of that, what do you think is going to happen in, you know, Washington, D.C., or Maryland? They're obviously going to spend time, (unintelligible) and whatnot.
It's no different here. The only difference is they're going to have to call one of the federal agencies to come take the person off their hands and enforce the immigration law that's already - that's been in place since the 1950s, when the INA was enacted.
CONAN: John, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. Sam Brooke is an attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. He joins us by phone from his office in Montgomery, Alabama. Nice to have you with us today.
SAM BROOKE: Thank you, it's great to be with you.
CONAN: And what have you noticed as the biggest changes in Alabama since that law's - that state's immigration law took effect?
BROOKE: I think this has a profound impact throughout the state. I think that the stories that have been coming out through our hotline, that we have been running for people who have had legal problems with the law. And even just the news stories that have been running about people being denied housing because they can no longer register their mobile homes, children who are coming home from school in tears because they were asked about what their immigration status was, they were asked about their parents, they were bullied by other kids who said, well, you're not from here, you should just go back to Mexico, even though the kids have been here their entire lives, they're U.S. citizens.
You know, families making strategic plans to go out into the community so that one parent is always at home, so they're not both in the cars in case they encounter a police officer in Alabama and end up in immigration proceedings or at least in custody at the local jail overnight while they try to sort through what their immigration status is.
All of these sorts of impacts are - have been having a profound impact on the community. And I think it's exactly because of that that we need to kind of revisit this law and re-look at it, which the legislature has started to take up now.
CONAN: Yeah, we heard State Senator Dial a few minutes ago, but it seems they're tweaking around the edges. The heart of the legislation would remain in effect.
BROOKE: I think that that's accurate with the proposals that we have seen so far. Some of the - you know, there are several different bills that are in play, and we certainly are hopeful that the ones that are more sweeping, in particular, one that would repeal it all, will gain some traction. But it hasn't thus far, it's true.
CONAN: And as you look at, again, the opinion polls, it's a very popular law.
BROOKE: I'm not sure that that's correct. There have been a few polls that have been touted by the supporters of the law who say, you know, 70 percent or higher approval rating. In the polling that - other polling, though, says over a majority of Alabamians want to see some change, the question is just how far they would go.
So I'm not sure that it's correct that this is still receiving overwhelming support, even within the state.
CONAN: And how - is there any way to tell, have the number of people in the state illegally, has that diminished, has it changed in any way since this law took effect almost a year ago?
BROOKE: I think it's only anecdotal. I don't think that there - I haven't seen any accurate numbers.
CONAN: Hard to come by, I think, yeah.
BROOKE: I think that's right. You know, we'll see. Pew Hispanic Center puts out surveys and data - or puts out reports about this based off of surveys like the American Community Survey, where they can make their estimations, you know, that are, you know, statistically relevant and statistically accurate, but it'll take some time to get those numbers in to see.
Anecdotally, we certainly saw, immediately after the law went into effect, that several communities where there was a larger undocumented population, the people were leaving to get away from here to go - if you're going to work in Alabama, why not just go down south into the Florida panhandle, where at least you won't have these oppressive laws?
I think this was even seen in Georgia, even though the law there was enjoined, it was blocked in the courts. I think the message that was conveyed by the Georgia legislation was you, this category of persons, aren't welcome. And people understood that and decided that they could just go work in the panhandle rather than working in Georgia.
I think it's had a profound impact, in that sense, and damaging, though, to the state itself, which is the sad irony is that businesses, particularly, you know, the farming industry or the construction industry, as your caller Bob was referencing, are being hurt because of these laws.
CONAN: Well, presumably, its proponents hope that in a year or two, as things work their way through, well, people who were here, citizens, will be hired to do those jobs, and everything will get back to normal, except that you'll have a lot more - you'll have more employment.
BROOKE: I think that's certainly the hope, but I think that it doesn't - you know, that promise doesn't hold up to any scrutiny. I mean, I think at the simplest level, to think about this, is to recognize we need a nationwide solution to the immigration problems that we're facing. We can't have one different law in Alabama and a different one in Florida and a whole other one in Tennessee. That's simply unworkable and impractical.
But furthermore, the economists who look at this, typically say the workforce that comes in with immigrant labor is complementary to work that citizens are going to do. So for example, there's an article - a lot of the proponents of the law in Alabama have been claiming, well, we've been seeing a decreasing unemployment rate in Alabama, and it must be because of the immigration law. It must be working.
But all the economists say no, they just happen to be happening at the same time. What's been causing the decreased unemployment rate in Alabama has been a contraction of the workforce, meaning fewer people are applying for jobs, they've given up, they're not looking for work right now. And so, you know, it's not related to immigrants.
CONAN: As you anticipate the - one of the things we asked Senator Dial about, and he admitted that there was - the state's image has taken a licking.
BROOKE: I think it truly has, and I think that - of course, you know, we have a dark history already in the civil rights movement, and it's just truly unfortunate that they have decided to revisit it now in a new form and a new version.
CONAN: Thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.
BROOKE: Thank you.
CONAN: Sam Brooke is an attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He joined us by phone from his office in Montgomery, Alabama. Let's get David on the line, David with us from Douglas in Georgia.
DAVID: Yes. Hey, Neal.
CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.
DAVID: We've had a lot of problems over the years in Georgia. And granted, now, this goes against a lot of what I feel, because I believe there is a lot of profiling within these laws. But as a commercial plumber by trade, we have been slammed over the years with companies, you know, running, basically, crews of illegal immigrants, and have just undercutted many, many, many companies. And it's gotten to the point where there's a law in Georgia, in particular, kind of came at a point where it was just getting out of control, you know?
CONAN: When you talk about teams, this, I presume, is in construction?
DAVID: Yeah, yeah. You know, like new construction, remodels, you name it, you know. A lot of industrial and commercial stuff.
CONAN: So has your work picked up?
DAVID: Oh, well, we've been blessed in regard that we, you know, we've been really, really busy. But I've got friends in Atlanta, and Atlanta was particularly - and middle Georgia, and up in north Georgia was where it was worse. And a lot of my friends actually lost their jobs as a result of, you know, companies coming in with really, you know, with that kind of workforce. And it was really - it's been really terrible for a lot of people, you know.
CONAN: So despite the profiling you mentioned, you think the law is a good idea?
DAVID: Well, you know, just in that sense, you know. I believe there is a lot of discrimination that can come out of it. And I'm absolutely and completely opposed to that. But I feel like there's been a breakdown, you know, within the government in Georgia to really address that problem and hold companies accountable, you know? And I think that's what it comes down to more than anything. That's why the law, to me - you know, it has benefited a lot of people, and it will.
But I think - all in all, I think, you know? It's just kind of weird. It's kind of a catch-22, I guess, because it's really bringing hardship on a lot of people. And at the same time, it's actually giving people their jobs back, so, you know. But, again, I think it should be addressed, you know, in the state government, because, you know, they regulate, they're supposed to regulate, you know. They're supposed to hold these people accountable for their workers, and they're not doing it, you know.
CONAN: David, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
DAVID: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Here's an email from Steve: I've been in roofing for the last six years. It shares numerous similarities to the produce pickers' dilemmas. Roofing is a skilled labor that pays very well, but it's hard work. I, being white, am a rarity. And I've had numerous domestic laborers attempt to work with the migrant labor, and it was the same as the produce pickers. I do have crews that have been forced out of Alabama, Georgia and parts of South Carolina because of legislation and fear. This is not fair to us or to them.
And this email from Wesley in Washington State: Not sure if it got mentioned or not, but farmers in Washington State are plowing under asparagus fields due to labor shortages. There just isn't enough qualified labor to harvest the crop. We're talking about the effects of state immigration laws. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Let's go next to Suzanne, Suzanne with us from Tucson.
SUZANNE: Hi. How are you?
CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.
SUZANNE: We've been living with the consequences of SB 1070 for a couple of years now. And I'm a longtime Arizonan and Tucsonan, and I've seen this issue and the enforcement-only policies promoted by SB 1070 really tear apart the fabric of this community.
CONAN: Again, the law has not been enforced. It's been enjoined by a federal court until...
SUZANNE: Well, four parts of it had been enjoined.
SUZANNE: And that - and those are the ones that are in front of the Supreme Court at this time. We see - regardless, we see all kinds of enforcement going on. We see a lot of racial profiling, people pulled over in their cars extensively for blowing a stop sign or a broken taillight. And they are arrested not for the traffic infraction, but for having - not having the proper documents. I also think there's a lot of misinformation and ignorance about the status of undocumented immigrants.
A first-time entry into the United States without documents is not a crime. It's a civil offense. And people are being picked up with - and charged and detained without access to legal help because it is not a criminal offense.
CONAN: Suzanne, thanks very much for the call.
SUZANNE: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get Raymond on, and Raymond's on the line with us from San Antonio.
RAYMOND: Yeah. Good afternoon. I've got a different angle on this, and I was listening to the grower in Georgia. And I - what I immediately thought of is when my mother was doing migrant work back in the '50s and '60s, one of the things that the local communities require that we all go to school, but on Saturdays and Sundays, it didn't prevent them from stopping us to working with our parents. So the migrant folks, the ones that the farmer was talking about, seemed to be a little bit more productive than us because on Saturdays and Sundays or even in the evenings, they can get their family to go out there and help daddy, so they can make enough money and move on after the pickings get a little dry. But I wanted to share a couple of other things here, and I...
CONAN: We've just got a few seconds left, if you could say something quickly.
RAYMOND: Yeah. Well - they - I'm upset because there were some comments made about the Georgia legislator when he said that they were getting friendly - the big problem in Georgia is minority-majority. They're afraid. That's what their problem is. It's not about immigration. They're just afraid that the - that minority soon will become the majority. And it's all about politics.
CONAN: All right.
RAYMOND: They need to admit it.
CONAN: The legislature - the legislator was from Alabama, but...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CONAN: ...OK, Raymond...
RAYMOND: It doesn't matter.
CONAN: No. I hear what you're saying. I just wanted to...
RAYMOND: That's primary in all the states that are doing all these laws. We know it. They know it. And it's not the federal - he kept referring to the federal government. It's not the federal government. They just need to sit down and compromise this thing. One wants a fence. The other wants a comprehensive program. And I think they can work this thing.
CONAN: Raymond, thanks very much for the call. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.