Mexican girls grind corn to make cornmeal for tortillas. (Photo : Reuters)
When Alabama lawmakers passed a bill targeting unemployed, undocumented Hispanic workers last year, they probably didn't expect those positions to be filled by African refugees.
A recent Business Week article reported that the bill, said by Sen. Scott Beason to be a measure to "put thousands of native Alabamians back in the work force" actually brought swarms of African, Haitian and Puerto Ricans to the state to work.
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The law has come under some criticism for being unconstitutional. Modeled after Arizona's controversial law passed in 2010, Alabama's law allows law enforcement to arrest suspected illegal immigrants if they can't prove citizenship. It also makes it illegal to rent property to illegal immigrants, forbids registering their cars, signing a contract and even penalizes those who employ them.
Business Week said most of these workers were recruited by the poultry industry, a sector that previously heavily employed undocumented workers, most of which were Mexican immigrants who were in the country illegally.
More than 120,000 illegal Hispanic immigrants were employed throughout the state in 2010, 95,000 of which were in the labor force, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Many Hispanic workers left one popular plant, Wayne Farms, LLC, located in Albertville, Ala., so the company used "alternative methods of sourcing" to fill those positions. The alternative: hiring refugees.
At a whopping $5 million, the company was able to hire and train those new workers. A spokesman for Wayne Farms said locals weren't interested in taking the empty positions, so hiring the refugees was the best route to take.
One of those refugees is Eritrean Esene Manga, 22, who has been working at Wayne Farms since the bill's passage last year. He earns $10.85 an hour cutting chicken breasts.
Wayne Smith raises tomatoes on a farm outside of Albertville. Smith's employees, mostly all Mexican, disappeared right after the bill's passage. He scurried to find replacements.
"The whites lasted half a day, and the blacks wouldn't come at all," Smith told the Washington Post. "The work was just too hot and hard for them."
Beason has publicly stated his discontent for the refugees' entrance into his state's workforce.
"We would prefer they hire native Alabamians," he said. He said the reason refugees are being hired is probably because "they're cheaper."