Friday, October 7, 2011
Ala. weighs using inmates as farmworkers to replace fleeing Hispanics
The head of Alabama's agriculture department suggests using prison inmates to work the fields to make up for Hispanic workers who have fled the state to avoid a tough new immigration law, the Montgomery Advertiser reports.
John McMillan, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Industries, says state officials are looking at short- and long-term solutions to a potential labor short age.
The work release program allows non-violent, low secu rity-risk inmates to work without correctional supervi sion for private companies at prevailing wages.
With crops potentially rotting in the fields, McMillan says using prisoners would be a short-term solution.
"We are optimistic that by Monday we will have some help for farmers," McMillan says.
The new law requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check po tential employees' legality and says law enforcement can ask people to show their documentation if it's sus pected they're in the state il legally, the Advertiser reports.
Growers around the state have said that much of their Hispanic workforce, legal and illegal, have fled, leaving them without enough workers to get their crops out of the fields, says theAdvertiser, a sister publication to USA TODAY.
McMillan says he doesn't know exactly how many farmers are in immediate need of help, but notes that it is harvest time for toma toes, sweet potatoes, fall wa termelons and some cantaloupes. "And cotton gins have to have a good bit of labor," he points out.
Kent Scott, a blueberry grower in Henry County, tells theAdvertiser that he's willing to give inmates a try because it is hard to hire locals.
"They don't have the moti vation to work," he says of local workers. "(Immigrants) are willing to work. They are trying to feed their families. They're hustling."