Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
The Price of Intolerance
Published: November 27, 2011
It’s early yet for a full accounting of the economic damage Alabama has done to itself with its radical new immigration law.
Farmers can tally the cost of crops left to rot as workers flee. Governments can calculate the loss of revenues when taxpayers flee. It’s harder to measure the price of a ruined business reputation or the value of investments lost or productivity lost as Alabamians stand in line for hours to prove their citizenship in any transaction with the government. Or what the state will ultimately spend fighting off an onslaught of lawsuits, or training and deploying police officers in the widening immigrant dragnet, or paying the cost of diverting scarce resources away from fighting real crimes.
A growing number of Alabamians say the price will be too high, and there is compelling evidence that they are right. Alabama is already at the low end of states in employment and economic vitality. It has long struggled to lure good jobs and shed a history of racial intolerance.
That was turning around and many foreign manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Honda, have set up there. Its business-friendly reputation took a serious blow with the arrest in Tuscaloosa of a visiting Mercedes manager who was caught driving without his license and taken to jail as a potential illegal immigrant.
Sheldon Day, the mayor of Thomasville, has aggressively recruited foreign companies to his town, including a Chinese company — Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group — that plans to build a $100 million plant there, with more than 300 jobs.
Mayor Day is now worried about that project and future prospects. He wasquoted by The Press-Register in Mobile as saying business inquiries had dried up since the law was passed. “I know the immigration issue is being used against us.”
Alabama’s competitors certainly won’t waste any time. After the Tuscaloosa incident, the editorial page of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch invited Mercedes to Missouri. “We are the Show-Me State,” it said, “not the ‘Show me your papers’ state.”
Undocumented immigrants make up about 4.2 percent of Alabama’s work force, or 95,000 people in a state of 4.8 million. For all of the talk about clearing the way for unemployed Americans, there is no evidence that Alabamians in any significant numbers are rushing to fill the gap left by missing farm laborers and other low-wage immigrant workers.
The loss of job-filling, tax-paying workers may get even worse if Alabama is allowed to enforce a law requiring people who own or rent a trailer home to obtain an annual registration sticker. This puts the undocumented in a Catch-22 — criminals if they don’t have a sticker, criminals if they try to get one. For now, a judge has issued an order blocking enforcement. But if the state wins, many thousands may simply join the exodus, tearing more shreds in the economy.
The law’s damage is particularly heartbreaking in poor towns across the state, where small businesses are the economic lifeblood. We’ve spoken with Latino shopkeepers and restaurant owners in places like Albertville who say business is catastrophically down, with customers in hiding or flight. The situation isn’t much better in Huntsville and Birmingham.
There should be no doubt about the moral repugnance of Alabama’s law, which seeks to deny hardworking families the means to live. But even some of the law’s most enthusiastic supporters are beginning to acknowledge the law’s high economic cost. There is growing talk of revising or repealing the legislation. The sooner Alabama does so — and other states learn — the better.