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Migrant labor laws crippling Southeast agriculture

Federal legislation concerning migrant labor is a potential crippler of the agriculture industry in the U.S. 

Of more immediate concern is the rapid adoption by states in the Deep South of restrictive, almost Hitler-like migrant labor laws, which are literally killing labor intensive farming operations right now.

HB-56 in Alabama, HB-87 in Georgia and S-20 in South Carolina have one thing in common, authorities have the responsibility — not the right — to detain and jail anyone who ‘appears’ to be an illegal alien. South Carolina’s new law even calls for a ‘special’ police force to enforce the new state law on illegal aliens.

To my knowledge none of these states have actively enforced these laws to their maximum potential. However, in Alabama, a management level Korean worker was detained and threatened with deportation because he couldn’t produce requested documentation.

This is where the story gets personal. I live in an upscale, middle class neighborhood. My neighbors on both sides are Korean and work in the automotive industry. Both sets of parents have school age children who were not born in the U.S. The two fathers are both trying desperately to be sent back to Korea because they fear their children will be pulled from school and not allowed to get an education because they are not U.S. citizens.

I could pass that off as an ungrounded fear that these new laws will be enforced and as blind parental concern for the welfare of their children, except for one other family.

When we moved into our newly built home nearly six years ago, the first to greet us was an Indian family, who had at the time a six year old daughter who became fast friends with my then six year old granddaughter. They remained school mates and friends until just before Thanksgiving of 2011.

Their oldest daughter was born in India. Shortly after her birth, my neighbor moved his then fledgling small engine engineering firm to the U.S., primarily to work with two large Briggs & Stratton plants in the area. Subsequently his company has grown to more than 30 people — all U.S. citizens, all make salaries considerably above the state average, and all pay taxes.

The Indian couple now has a second daughter, born in the U.S. and thereby a naturalized U.S. citizen. She is now five years old and in kindergarten.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving my Indian neighbor and friend came over to tell us that he is moving his family — and his business back to India. The next day they were gone forever. He is back to sell his house and complete the dismantling of his production facility and subsequent shipment of it back to India.

More than 30 people will be unemployed by year’s end in a state that is perpetually among the top of unemployed people. The state will also lose millions of dollars of badly needed tax revenue.

My friend says he can’t continue to live and raise his family in a state or country in which his two daughters will be treated so differently because of where they were born.

Why is this? How can such treatment of decent, hard-working people be handed down in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

I get 911 and the threat of terrorists. On Sept. 11, 2001, I was sitting in front of a bank of televisions and phones in Samford Hall on the Auburn University campus. No matter how long I live, I’ll never forget the total anguish of our then Provost.

He sought refuge in the basement of Samford Hall — the main administrative building on the Auburn campus, because there were TVs and sophisticated communication equipment there, which offered him the best opportunity to learn the fate of his daughter. His only child, who had recently graduated with honors from Auburn’s international business program and who was beginning a promising career with a company headquartered on the 53rd floor of the South Tower of the U.S. Trade Center.

From early morning until late evening he sat there, eyes and ears glued to TVs and phones bringing news to the University’s main information facility. Only desperate, unanswered cell phone calls to his daughter and no-news updates to his family punctuated his vigil.

Late in the afternoon of Sept. 11, he received a call from his daughter, finally able to make cell phone connections. She had been in a meeting in another building and in route to her office when the first building was hit, but like millions of people she could not relay her safety to family and friends for more than 24 hours.

I understand the threat of terrorism, but killing a part of the industry that carries the only hope of feeding our ever-increasing world population and disrupting the lives of so many good people, like my Indian neighbors, is not the right way to fight terrorism.

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TAGS: Management
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