US
Titus Howard of Birmingham, Ala., pulls plastic from fields as he tries his hand at field work in Steele, Ala., Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. Howard took on the job after migrant workers fled the area because of the stiff new Alabama immigration law, leaving many farmers without enough help to harvest their crops. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) Titus Howard of Birmingham, Ala., pulls plastic from fields as he tries his hand at field work in Steele, Ala., Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. Howard took on the job after migrant workers fled the area because of the stiff new Alabama immigration law, leaving many farmers without enough help to harvest their crops. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)  

Alabama jobless rate falls amid immigration reform

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Alabama’s unemployment rate fell at a record pace in November amid stepped-up efforts by President Barack Obama’s deputies to frustrate enforcement of the state’s popular new immigration reform.

The state’s unemployment rate fell 0.6 percent in November to 8.7 percent, according to new state reports, partly because the state’s employers opened up jobs to Americans after shedding illegal immigrants.

The unemployment rate is far below October’s rate of 9.3 percent and September’s rate of 9.8 percent.

“The continued drop is proof that people — American Citizens [and] legal migrants, have suffered at the hands of politicians who choose politics over economics,” said Chuck Ellis, a council member in Northern Alabama’s Marshall County.

“What’s really amazing is that in Marshall County, a county of 95,000 residents, 30,000 workforce eligible, there are over 600 people who now have jobs that they didn’t have 6 months ago,” he said.

In November the county’s unemployment rate dropped 0.7 percent, from 8.1 percent to 7.4 percent.

“Is that a difference of great significance? Ask those families for an answer as they undertake the Christmas season,” Ellis said.

Department of Justice officials, including civil-regulation chief Tom Perez, have repeatedly visited the state to invite people to make claims of discrimination.

Perez is pushing ahead with a lawsuit intended to gut the reform, which was supported by members of both parties, and by both white and African-American legislators.

Perez’s efforts have been broadcast by many established media outlets, many of which have also highlighted the reform’s painful impact on illegal immigrants. Few outlets, however, have detailed the beneficial impact of the state’s falling unemployment rate.

Administration officials have cracked down on immigration enforcement by several states in partial exchange for promises by the Hispanic lobbies to spur turnout by Democratic-leaning Hispanic voters in 2012.

The lobbies had sought a federal amnesty, but rising public opposition has deterred Democrats from seriously promoting any amnesty since Obama’s 2008 election.

In compensation for their inaction, the federal government and allied Hispanic lobbies have already sued several other states, including New Mexico, South Carolina, Georgia and Arizona.

On Thursday, Perez also announced a litany of complaints about the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz. Perez, who opened his Thursday press conference by saying “Buenos Dias,” also said he would stop helping the sheriff enforce federal immigration laws.

“We’re going to fight back, we’re going to show the politics involved. … The president wants to get the Hispanic vote,” Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in a Fox interview Dec. 16.

The Alabama reform copied federal immigration laws, making it more difficult for local entrepreneurs and businesses to hire or trade with illegal immigrants. Top state officials, including Gov. Robert Bentley, have said they’ll make some trims to the law in the new year to defeat the legal challenges by Obama’s deputies, business lobbies and immigration advocates.

In October, Alabama was ranked 37th-worst in the nation for unemployment. November’s numbers pushed the state up to 30th place, based on the October rankings.

In a complex economy, “it’s certainly plausible that immigration enforcement — and the subsequent drop in the number of illegals — enabled unemployed Americans to find work,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a D.C. -based advocacy group.

“Americans with the highest unemployment rates — young workers, less-educated workers, minority workers — are the ones facing the greatest job competition from illegal aliens, and thus would benefit the most from the departure of those illegal aliens,” he added.

The state’s new immigration reform gets much of the credit from local boosters, although stepped-up Christmas hiring likely played some role. However, Alabama reduced its unemployment much more than the adjacent states of Mississippi and Georgia.

In Georgia, the unemployment rate fell to 9.9 percent in November, down from 10.2 percent in October and 10.3 percent in September.

In Mississippi, the November numbers have not been released, but the state’s unemployment rate stayed steady at 10.6 percent in October and 10.6 percent in September.

In Alabama, the unemployment rate is lower in northern counties.

For example, Madison County’s rate was 6.9 percent in November, down from a September level of 8.2 percent, according to the state’s Department of Industrial Relations.

The highest rate of unemployment are in the southern, majority-black districts of WIlcox, Perry, and Bullock. In November, their unemployment rates were 15.5 percent or greater.