Alabama farmers have proposed using prisoners for field labor. The state faces a shortage of migrant workers after it passed the country’s harshest anti-immigration law, known as HB56.
Alabama’s new anti-immigration law requires local police to verify the immigration status of anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally.
The new law also requires public schools to check students’ immigration status, criminalizes giving an undocumented immigrant a ride, and requires employers to use E-Verify to check potential employees’ status.
A spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industry told AFP News officials met in Mobile with farmers to discuss their proposal.
A statement by the department said the meeting with the farmers was convened “to help solve the chronic labor shortages created by Alabama’s new immigration law.”
“The suggestion to use prisoners who are eligible for work release programs was made as a way to help farmers fill the gap and find sufficient labor,” said Amy Belcher.
Many Hispanic workers in Alabama have fled to other states because they fear being deported. As a result, farm and construction industry groups claim they suffer from a shortage of workers.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there were about 120,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state before the law passed. AFP notes Alabama has released no official figures on how many workers have been lost since the law went into effect in September.
The Obama administration has challenged the constitutionality of Alabama’s new anti-immigration law, arguing it infringes on federal powers, and federal courts have blocked key provisions pending a definitive ruling.
The Nation reports prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, but changed because of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and a federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program).
This Prison Industries Act “provides for the employment of inmate labor in state correctional institutions and in the private manufacturing of certain products under specific conditions.