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Ashley Hendricks, a University of Alabama student from Huntsville, holds a sign and chants while protesting HB-56 on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Approximately 40 students gathered for a protest of the immigration bill on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa, Ala.   (AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton) Ashley Hendricks, a University of Alabama student from Huntsville, holds a sign and chants while protesting HB-56 on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Approximately 40 students gathered for a protest of the immigration bill on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton)  

Alabama official says tough immigration law leading to ‘self-deportation’

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Employers in Alabama’s Marshall County are hiring new workers following the stepped-up federal and state enforcement of immigration laws.

“It is amazing to see the effects” as undocumented workers leave town, said Chuck Ellis, a member of Albertville’s city council.

Immigration is a hot-button issue that is testing the skills of candidates as diverse as President Barack Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. They’re being further tested by a wave of new state laws, and by some limited federal enforcement, which are giving voters real-world tests of rival policies.

On Monday, for example, the Wayne Farms chicken-processing plant in Marshall County held a jobs fair to fill slots that opened when many Hispanic workers left the county. The line “was probably equivalent to a couple of blocks … It was a largely Anglo and black group,” but also included Hispanics, said Ellis.

“It is tough work, very tough … my momma did it for a while, I’ve had friends who did it,” said Ellis, who also works as a local sheriff.

The new reform measures are also reducing classroom crowding in the 4,000-student school district, said Ellis. Roughly 150 kids of migrant workers have departed the district, and perhaps 500 more will leave as enforcement continues, he said. “It is tough on those kids,” but their departure will free up teachers to work with other Hispanic kids that need to learn English, he said.

“A large proportion of the illegal Hispanic community has moved … self-deportation is a real thing,” said Ellis. Because of the exodus, the county’s unemployment rate has dropped to from about 9.5 percent to roughly 9.3 percent over the last several weeks, he said. (RELATED: Perry open to sending US troops to Mexico)

The reforms in Alabama, and similar changes in Arizona and other states and cities that have begun enforcing immigration laws, have spurred furious opposition from the Hispanic ethnic lobby, and has put the administration in a political bind, said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes illegal immigration and seeks to shrink legal immigration.

President Barack Obama and his appointees do not want to want to alienate the many swing-voters who support enforcement of immigration laws, but they also don’t want to displease Hispanic advocacy groups that provide money and volunteers for Democratic candidates, he said. “I’m not sure that’s a needle they can thread,” he said.

Administration officials are trying.

A Sept. 30 report in the Washington Post said officials in the Justice Department were considering further legal action against Alabama and Arizona, and also lawsuits against South Carolina, Georgia, Utah and Indiana. Those lawsuits would be cheered by Hispanic advocacy groups, such as the National Council of The Race, or La Raza ,which have complained that Obama has not used his executive authority to effectively end enforcement of immigration laws.

In a concession to those groups, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, has championed the administration’s new policy of deporting criminal immigrants while largely ignoring illegal immigrants who have not committed additional crimes, such as felonies. “Vesting discretion in our immigration enforcement officers and immigration lawyers is not amnesty,” she declared in a Oct. 5 speech at American University.