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Alabama farmers speak out for immigration reform: “This is a public issue, not politics.”

LatinaLista — The issue of immigration reform has been something that the GOP has felt very comfortable stalling, whether it be in Congress or even on the presidential campaign circuit.

Alabama farmers gather to voice frustration over losing their labor force and possibly their crops.

The latest defensive line that conservatives like to use against addressing illegal immigration anytime soon is that nothing can be done until the border is secure — a moot point at this stage with a number of border towns earning high marks for safety.

Yet, the days are numbered for how long conservatives can push immigration reform “down the road.” In fact, they may just have to tackle it before the 2012 election if some farmers in Alabama have their way.

Today, over 50 farmers gathered with a couple of their local legislators at Jack’s Truck Stop in Good Hope, Alabama. The restaurant is a popular gathering place and frequent host for political meetings according to the Cullman Times newspaper.

It’s the kind of place where people can sit back and speak what’s on their minds. From initial coverage of the meeting, people had a lot to say.

For starters, whereas illegal immigration has devolved into a political ideology of sorts among its critics, for Alabama farmers it has become a devastating reality. Farmers gathered at the meeting told their lawmakers that they can’t find the supposed workforce that anti-immigrant legislators said existed but just couldn’t work because of the presence of the undocumented workers.

Farmer after farmer, as seen in video coverage, took to the microphone to say how they’ve tried to get young people and others to work the fields. Yet, the most common complaint among these job-needy individuals was that it was too hot to work.

As one farmer, who appeared to be the leader at the meeting, told the audience:

“…We use Hispanic labor because we have no choice. We cannot find anyone else who wants to work. If they did, we would gladly work with them. They don’t want to work. We’re caught between a rock and a hard place. This is not something that can go on for a week or two. Folks, it takes one day. If you’re picking fresh market tomatoes…just one day’s picking is a lot of dollars that you lose. One day is all it takes. One day for sweet potatoes to be dug and not picked up; they’re no good.”

The farmers in attendance pointed out that it’s all over the state where farmers could potentially lose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crops because there are no Latino agricultural workers.

If farmers lose their crops then it’s a no-brainer that already high food prices will only escalate and then the affordability and the scarcity of food will become a reality that will be too late for any legislation to correct.

Some of the politicians in attendance, one who even voted for the Alabama anti-immigrant bill, came under attack by the farmers for not thinking out the consequences of his actions.

This is not about politics,” Keith Smith, an Alabama sweet potato farmer said. “This is about farming and all the people of Alabama. We need to exchange some ideas and see what can be worked out. This is a public issue, not politics.”

In a sign that reality is slowly making an impression on a politician who favored and voted for the legislation, state Sen. Paul Bussman “wants a system in which the workers would be documented and pay the permit cost as a means of providing the state and counties money. But the senator stresses that whatever system can be adopted should provide a means of making the workers fall within an acceptable legal status.”

What I’m going in to get is input from the agriculture community. I want firsthand information about the issues they are facing,” Bussman said. “I’ve been in touch with ALFA (Alabama Farmers Federation) to see if they can attend. I’m open to any suggestions, but we’ve got to have people who are legal. What I’m talking mainly about is a work permit. If they can’t find workers we could look at this, but we want to know who they are and where they are,” Bussman said.

If this situation is happening in Alabama, it’s happening in Georgia, Kansas and other states that have passed similar anti-immigrant measures — as they like to justify it — because the federal government isn’t addressing it.

The ironic twist in this story is that many of the farmers who saw their Latino labor force literally disappear overnight when the anti-immigrant bill was passed in the state, told how some of the workers decided to return to Mexico because the economy was doing better than in the US.

The one overriding consensus reached at this morning’s meeting was at the same time a compliment to the Latino work ethic as it was a sad observation on the average US worker:

It’s hot and it’s hard work, and people just don’t want to do it, but these people [undocumented workers] will. They’re Latino workers, and they work hard.”

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