Throughout the state of Florida, farms rely on Hispanic workers to ensure their crops are picked in a timely manner. These workers enable farmers to get their crops to market before they spoil and make a living. According to one state representative, close to 80 percent of the workers in the agricultural field are Hispanic. Current immigration laws in the state make this possible.
Until recently, many farmers in the neighboring state of Alabama were in the same situation. That all changed last month when the passage of HB 56 was upheld by a Federal District Judge making the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, law. In addition to requiring public schools to determine whether children were residing in the state legally, it also made it possible for law enforcement officers to detain anyone who could not produce proper documentation when stopped.
As a result of the new law many families left the state leaving farmers in the state without enough people to harvest their crops. The fallout from the passage of this law has hit farmers in Alabama hard and many farmers in Florida worried about how they would cope should Florida pass a similar law.
One Alabama tomato farmer said his crop of tomatoes is spoiling on the vine before they are able to be picked. He indicated instead of the 12 trucks they would have had in the field before the bill was passed, they now only have three.
Though Florida has not passed a similar law, many in the agriculture industry fear that they will nonetheless be impacted by the laws passed in neighboring states. One citrus farmer worries that people who he has hired in the past will not return to pick this year's crop because to get to Florida they would have to drive through Georgia or Alabama. If the Hispanic workers fail to return farmers will have to hire workers who are non-Hispanic and demand more money to complete the same job. Another option that is not viable for crops such as strawberries is to use equipment to pick the crops.
There is certainly more to come on this matter and we will continue to monitor it.
Source: Highlands Today, "What will Florida do?" Gary Pinnell, Oct. 19, 2011