ONEONTA, Ala. (AP) — Potato farmer Keith Smith saw most of his immigrant workers leave after Alabama's tough immigration law took effect, so he hired Americans. It hasn't worked out: Most show up late, work slower than seasoned farm hands and are ready to call it a day after lunch or by midafternoon. Some quit after a single day.
In Alabama and other parts of the country, farmers must look beyond the nation's borders for labor because many Americans simply don't want the backbreaking, low-paying jobs immigrants are willing to take. Politicians who support the law say over time more unemployed Americans will fill these jobs. They insist it's too early to consider the law a failure, yet numbers from the governor's office show only nominal interest.
"I've had people calling me wanting to work," Smith said. "I haven't turned any of them down, but they're not any good. It's hard work, they just don't work like the Hispanics with experience."
Alabama passed its law in June and it was immediately challenged by the Obama administration as it has been in other states. Unlike those states' measures, Alabama's law was left largely in place while challenges played out in court, frightening Hispanics and driving many of them away.
The agriculture industry suffered the most immediate impact. Farmers said they will have to downsize or let crops die on the vine. As the season's harvest winds down, many are worried about next year.
In south Georgia, Connie Horner has heard just about every reason unemployed Americans don't want to work on her blueberry farm. It's hot, the hours are long, the pay isn't enough and it's just plain hard.
"You can't find legal workers," Horner said. "Basically they last a day or two, literally."
Horner, who runs an 8½-acre organic blueberry farm, said she tried to use the government's visa program to hire foreign workers, but it was too costly and time consuming.
She plans to stop growing organically and start using a machine to pick the berries.
"I did everything I possibly could to be legal and honest and not part of the problem," Horner said. "Morally, I can't knowingly hire illegal workers."
Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican who signed the law, started a program last week to help businesses, particularly farmers, make up for the lost labor. So far, about 260 people interested in temporary agricultural jobs have signed up. About three dozen job openings have been posted, said Tara Hutchison, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations. She said the department doesn't know of anyone who has been hired.