Immigration law impacts community
by Kenny Farmer
Oct 20, 2011 | 5047 views |  21 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chandler Mountain farmer Brian Cash looks at tomatoes that will rot in the fields because of the abscence of his immigrant workforce. He says workers, both legal and illegal, have left his farm because of Alabama's immigration laws.
Chandler Mountain farmer Brian Cash looks at tomatoes that will rot in the fields because of the abscence of his immigrant workforce. He says workers, both legal and illegal, have left his farm because of Alabama's immigration laws.
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STEELE — Chandler Mountain tomato farmer Brian Cash says Alabama’s new immigration law not only hurts his business and his community, but it also hurts him personally. Since the immigration law went into effect in September, many of Cash’s employees, who he says have worked with him for “as long as he can remember,” have left the state.

“You mess with my living and my people, you’re messing with my emotions,” said Cash. “I mean I love these guys. You work hand-in-hand with them for years and years and years, and you develop a relationship with them. It’s more than business, it’s personal.”

Cash says that not only are the illegal immigrants leaving the state, but some of his legal, documented workers are leaving as well.

“The main problem with the law is, when they leave here (Cash’s farm) they get harassed,” said Cash. “They get pulled over. There are roadblocks on each end of the mountain. That’s the problem.”

Cash said it angered him to see his employees stay overnight at his farm and sleep in their trucks because they were afraid to drive home.

“They simply want to help us get cleaned up and finish the year,” said Cash. “Who else would do that? They care. They take pride in their jobs, and they want to be able to do them.”

Cash said since losing much of his workforce he has had some people offer to work, but encountered a situation on the first day that “left a bad taste in his mouth.”

Cash says an American couple from West Blocton came to the farm looking for work and “lasted about an hour.” The couple went into the fields with Cash’s remaining pickers to fill boxes with tomatoes. One of Cash’s workers noticed them marking two boxes for every one they picked. They were fired. Cash says that the couple stayed about an hour and made $20 between the two of them. “And they were trying to cheat to get what they got.”

“Anybody that’s willing to do this kind of work – if you’re willing and able and you’re an American, then more than likely, you’re going to be doing something else where you have a good, stable job 12 months out of the year. These guys will work, then pick up roots and go to the next crop. Americans aren’t going to do that. They’re not going to skip from one place to the other. I wouldn’t do it.”

Cash says, despite the incident on his first day without his normal workers, that he has not turned anyone away who was looking for a job. He said that he would be easier on him to employee hard working Americans in these positions because he would not have to worry about a person’s legality.

“We’ve been letting high school guys come up here and pull plastic,” said Cash. “But can you depend on that next year to grow 100 acres? No. I wouldn’t do it. There’s no way I would do it. We invest way too much in it to not know.”

Concerning the idea of hiring workers within the St. Clair County Community Corrections program, Cash says, “I won’t do it. Who wants a prisoner working on their farm?”

St. Clair County Corrections director Harvey Bell said many had immediately brought up the same concern about inmates working on their farms. However, Bell said that those considered for the Community Corrections program had no violent history, were drug tested several times each month and would be supervised while working. He also said many Alabama businesses, such as fast-food restaurants and factories, already participate in Community Corrections programs.

“An overwhelming majority of restaurants and manufacturers are in the criminal justice system,” said Bell.

Bell also said any employee coming from the Corrections program would lose their right to work and could be incarcerated for “one serious violation” occurring during work hours. Bell noted those participating in the program were not currently incarcerated.

“We’re offering someone who is supervised and drug tested,” said Bell.

Bell says that a meeting has been scheduled to discuss the setup of a training program for prospective tomato farm employees. Bell says the purpose of the training is to get workers ready for next year’s crop. However, Cash said he lost over $100,000 in sales this month because of a disappearing workforce.

The immigration law not only affects Chandler Mountain’s tomato farmers, but other Alabama businesses as well.

Cash says last year he bought drip tape from a Massachusetts company, but the majority of his supplies were purchased locally. Some of his expenses include tractors, plastic, irrigation pumps, irrigation products and other assorted farm equipment. Cash also spends over $30,000 annually on diesel fuel.

“You think, ‘someone else will grow those tomatoes’, but there are a lot of people depending on us.”

Kurt Nassif, owner of J&K Tires in Steele, says he can usually count on $15,000-20,000 worth of business during the month of October. He usually increases his inventory by $5,000-$10,000. The increased inventory is not the problem, but the loss of business is.

“It’s a big deal,” Nassif says about the lost business.

Nassif said the tomato workers usually start showing up at the beginning of October, preparing their vehicles for the trip to Florida or Texas, in most cases. He said they get tires, alignment, brakes and other services.

Nassif said over the past 10 years, farm workers have really helped his business, but in the last two weeks, he has only seen one Hispanic in his store.

“The local economy has definitely been affected,” said Nassif. “I’ve noticed a huge change lately.”

Nassif says it is not just the lack of Hispanics during the month of October that is hurting his sales. He said he has steady business from them throughout the months of June, July and August as well.

“Overall, it’s a pretty big impact,” said Nassif.

Contact Kenny Farmer at kfarmer@dailyhome.com.