BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Lana Boatwright walks through a row--one of many--of ripening tomatoes. It's almost time to harvest them, but she says that likely won't get done.
She blames Alabama's tough new immigration law.
She and other farmers from St. Clair County's Chandler Mountain Community met Monday with State Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale) to give him an angry earful of their woes brought on by the new law.
Farmers told Beason the law resulted in their migrant workers leaving the area and leaving them with a depleted workforce. That, they say, could cause economic disaster that could even shut down farmers on Chandler Mountain--farms that have been in the same families for as many as four generations.
Farmers say many of them left to find plentiful work in Florida, and took their workforce—not to mention state sales tax money—with them.
While Beason told the farmers he feels their frustrations, he stood by the law, and says there's nothing he can do to stop enforcement of it long enough for harvest season.
"I can't just magically make parts of it disappear," Beason told the farmers. "You're going to make it easy for them to stay here, or not easy for them to stay here, and my position is, to stay with the law that we have."
Farmers say Beason and other supporters never researched the implications of the law on Alabama's farms.
"You can make anything work on paper," says Boatwright. "It doesn't work out here in the real world."
Boatwright says her farm, which usually employed up to 45 such workers, was down to eight last Friday. She and other farmers present at the meeting favor a "blue card"--one that would allow migrant workers to do only agricultural work in the state, but not any other type of work, like construction.
"These people want to make a living. Make them pay taxes--that's fine, they don't mind," Boatwright told Fox6.
"You know, I've said from the beginning there's going to be some bumps in the road, and it's definitely a challenge during harvest time," Beason told Fox 6 after the meeting. "Hopefully one day the federal government will streamline some of their processes when temporary workers who come through like they used to do, two or three decades ago, come through, pick those crops, move onto the next place where those crops are riping. That's something I hope they deal with."
Beason left without commenting on a Sunday morning incident in which protesters confronted him at his church, the First Baptist Church of Gardendale.