Immigration

Alabama Has Jobs, Lacks Americans Willing to Gut Catfish or Pick Fruit

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Americans still don't want to pick fruit. Or gut catfish. BusinessWeek reports on "Why Americans Won't Do Dirty Jobs":

Skinning, gutting, and cutting up catfish is not easy or pleasant work. No one knows this better than Randy Rhodes, president of Harvest Select, which has a processing plant in impoverished Uniontown, Ala. For years, Rhodes has had trouble finding Americans willing to grab a knife and stand 10 or more hours a day in a cold, wet room for minimum wage and skimpy benefits.

Most of his employees are Guatemalan. Or they were, until Alabama enacted an immigration law in September that requires police to question people they suspect might be in the U.S. illegally and punish businesses that hire them. The law, known as HB56, is intended to scare off undocumented workers, and in that regard it's been a success. It's also driven away legal immigrants who feared being harassed.

Rhodes has struggled to find workers since the law went into effect, but not for a lack of out-of-work Alabamians:

There's no shortage of people he could give those jobs to. In Alabama, some 211,000 people are out of work. In rural Perry County, where Harvest Select is located, the unemployment rate is 18.2 percent, twice the national average. One of the big selling points of the immigration law was that it would free up jobs that Republican Governor Robert Bentley said immigrants had stolen from recession-battered Americans. Yet native Alabamians have not come running to fill these newly liberated positions. Many employers think the law is ludicrous and fought to stop it. Immigrants aren't stealing anything from anyone, they say. Businesses turned to foreign labor only because they couldn't find enough Americans to take the work they were offering.

The entire piece is worth a read, especially the closing paragraph:

While the politicians and business owners argue, others see opportunity. Michael Maldonado, 19, wakes up at 4:30 each morning in a trailer in Tuscaloosa, about an hour from Harvest Select, where he works as a fish processor. Maldonado, who grew up in an earthen-floor shack in Guatemala, says he likes working at the plant. "One hundred dollars here is 700 quetzals," he says. "The managers say I am a good worker." After three years, though, the long hours and scant pay are starting to wear on him. With the business in desperate need of every available hand, it's not a bad time to test just how much the bosses value his labor. Next week he plans to ask his supervisor for a raise. "I will say to them, 'If you pay me a little more—just a little more—I will stay working here,' " he says. "Otherwise, I will leave. I will go to work in another state."

Read related Reason coverage here