Unemployment drops as Alabama’s immigration reform enacted

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Unemployment rates have fallen in Alabama amid new legal pressure on companies to comply with a popular immigration reform law.

September was the first full month that the reform was in force, and the unemployment rate fell from 9.8 percent in September to 9.3 percent in October, according to a Nov. 18 report from the state government.

The rates fell from 9.9 percent to 9 percent in Etowah County, from 8.8 percent to 8.1 percent in Marshall county, and from 11.6 percent to 10.6 percent in DeKalb county.

“The latest fall in unemployment numbers is proof that American citizens will work, and continues to solidify [the evidence] that self-deportation [by illegal immigrants] due to the Alabama Taxpayer & Citizen’s Protection Act is occurring,” said Chuck Ellis, a city council member in Albertville — the main town in Marshall County, northern Alabama.

Since the law’s bipartisan approval in June, it has been furiously criticized by progressives, including leaders in ethnic interest groups, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez and other leading officials in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. These critics say the law’s implementation violates civil rights.

Hispanic lobbies are an important force in the Democratic Party, partly because they promise to rally a large slice of the nation’s varied Hispanic voters to back President Obama in 2012.

The federal government sued the state, but persuaded a judge only to partially delay implementation of the law. Supporters of the reform expect additional lawsuits from the federal government.

The media has also highlighted apparent problems with the law, including the brief arrest of a visiting German executive, the shortage of field labor in the state’s largely unmechanized agricultural sector, and the absence from schools of hundreds of Latino immigrants’ children.

“The fact is that those who want illegal immigrants to leave have sound reasons for doing that, and one is to free up some jobs at the bottom end of the labor market,” said Steven Camarota, direct of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. The center’s motto is “low immigration, pro immigrant.”

“It is only one month of data, so we have to be careful, but it is a reminder of what the state legislature is trying to do,” he said.

The new unemployment data is muddied, however, by routine changes in the unemployment situation. For example, state and federal jobless benefits expire and prompt residents to take jobs they otherwise would not have taken.

But “the fact the unemployment rate is down all over state is a positive sign to me that the immigration bill is doing what it was designed to do, and that is put Alabamians back to work,” Matt Arnold, Marshall County’s economic development chief, told local newspaper The Sand Mountain Reporter.

Every county in Alabama saw a drop in unemployment, including Wilcox, Dallas and Bullock counties, where unemployment rates are greater than 16.5 percent.

A spokesman for Thomas Perez, who heads theDepartment of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, declined to comment when asked if the state’s job gains were evidence that the state’s reform is successful.

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