Albertville, Ala – Adela, an undocumented worker hurries back to the chicken processing factory Ala Trade because the lack of workers leaves no time for a break. “Today we were missing six lines,” said Adela, each line represents about 13 to 16 people.
In Albertville, a community located 66 miles from Birmingham, the psychological impact of the HB56 law which makes being undocumented a state crime, has been quickly felt.
In half a dozen chicken processing plants such as this one, which is an important source of employment in the town of 21,000 inhabitants, the absence of immigrants has become visible. “I want to go to Texas for my children. I'm leaving from here. I don’t want immigration (ICE) take me,” said Adela, 40, who has spent nearly half of her life living in Alabama.
Get our free emails
For some immigrants like Adela, it is not the fear of being discovered at work that concerns them, but that the police could detain them in the street and their children would be in the government’s custody, should they be deported.
On Wednesday Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn approved various parts of HB 56 to take effect, unlike what happened in Arizona with a similar law last year.
Blackburn refuted the arguments of the Department of Justice (DOJ) of the United States that much of the law is unconstitutional.
Yet many immigrants like Adela hope that the judge will consider temporarily halting her decision on these parts as the Eleventh Court of Appeals considers the appeal submitted by the DOJ. “You have to wait and see what happens,” said Andrea Sanchez, an undocumented worker. “Meanwhile, I’m not going out, not to work, or the punch-bowl, or the laundromat,” she said.
Sanchez, 25, decided not to work since Wednesday, when she learned that parts of the law were approved. “Now we are treated like kings. They used to say ‘if you want to work, good, if not that’s good too,” said Sanchez, who received several calls from Diamond Foods Poultry Processing Plant, where she worked for 7 years with another name for $ 7.25 an hour. “We’re being begged to go back to work.”
This time they said that if they did not go to work, they would not get “points” in a system to keep track of employees who are absent due to illness.
The absence of workers has been noted in several factories. Wayne Farms, a chicken processing plant that has been in Albertville for over 45 years, placed tents, boxes with job applications in English and Spanish and began receiving candidates to fill vacancies from 5 am on Monday. “The line of people stretched several blocks,” said one of the workers.
For some this is proof that the departure of undocumented immigrants is generating new sources of employment.” What is going on is a good thing. It helps the economy,” said Stephany Herring, 26, who arrived early with her husband and baby to wait to apply at Wayne Farms.
“Whoever didn’t want to work, too bad for him. I am willing to work hard,” said Herring.
Interestingly among those expected to seek employment there were also some undocumented immigrants such as Angelica Cervantes, a native of Toluca, Mexico, who has been unemployed for months. “I took an application and I will think,” said Cervantes. “I’m not thinking of moving right now.”
One of the arguments of those who supported the bill HB56 including Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is to combat unemployment, but opponents say there are jobs that whites are not willing to do. “We always have open job positions and they’re very difficult to fill” said Frank Singleton, a spokesman for Wayne Farms in Atlanta, Georgia.
Singleton said he could not provide figures on the number of workers who had been absent but absences were recorded in all its plants in Alabama as well as a decrease in the number of people applying for jobs. In Albertville, Wayne Farms employs 850 people, an estimated 30% are Latino. “We know of many people who already left or are planning to leave,” said Singleton.
Singleton said it’s already been predicted that HB 56 would have a negative impact on the Hispanic community whether with documents or without, choosing to leave the state to avoid being subject to racial profiling.
Wayne Farms already uses the E-verify system, a federal database to determine whether a person is authorized to work legally in the U.S., said Singleton. But he thinks many of those who left are workers who are documented but have undocumented family members.
Some immigrants are choosing destination states such as Tennessee where their anti-immigrant laws are supposedly less harsh or Georgia, where they have slowed a similar law in federal courts.
Olga, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who works in one of the poultry processing plants, said there was no turning back and is thinking about returning to the San Marcos apartment with her partner.
“Alabama thinks it's its own country and the governor says he wants to clean the state,” said Heraldo Lopez, another undocumented worker. “But it will be the poorest state in the country.”