Alabama gets Airbus factory, defying critics of immigration crackdown

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

Alabama is getting a new high-tech aircraft factory and 1,000 high-wage jobs, despite warnings from progressive groups that the state’s immigration reform would frighten away investors.

“The naysayers were hoping it would,” said state Rep. Mike Ball. But “the immigration law doesn’t make any difference to the foreign companies — if they’re legal, they know they’re welcome, and we have a competitive environment where they can make a profit,” said Ball, a former police detective.

“More jobs for sweet home Alabama,” said Chuck Ellis, a councilman in the city of Albertville.

“Once again the state of Alabama has taken the ‘but’ out of the liberals’ [warning] — ‘So you’ve got your immigration reform law, BUT now industry will go to other states to do their business,’” he wrote.

The aircraft factory was announced July 2 by Airbus, which is Europe’s largest aircraft maker and the primary worldwide rival to Boeing. Other states competed against Alabama for the factory, partly by offering state aid.

The 1,000 Airbus employees will assemble four A-320 jets a month by 2017 and will support many additional jobs in the state, whose unemployment rate has fallen faster since 2009 than nearly any other state in the country. The state’s drop is only outdone by Michigan, which benefited from huge federal subsidies for the auto industry.

The Airbus decision was a defeat for progressive groups and ethnic lobbies, who had urged companies to boycott the state until it abandons its effective immigration-reform law that curbs employment of illegal immigrants.

The critics included Mitch Ackerman, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, and Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The state already has a significant high-tech sector, mostly located around the Pentagon’s missile-development center in Huntsville. Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Honda have factories in the state.

Other firms are establishing factories in the state, where the GOP legislature and governor generally oppose regulations and lawsuits. For example, officials are touting the recent decision by a Chinese company, Golden Dragon, to build a copper-tube production factory that would employ roughly 300 people.

GOP officials — including state Attorney General Luther Strange — are also trying to boost Alabama’s education sector, partly by pushing to create prestigious trade schools.

The state’s popular immigration law, HB 56, was passed in July 2011, despite fierce opposition from Democrats. It was intended to curb companies’ use of illegal immigrant labor, and has successfully opened up many jobs to Alabama residents, including Hispanics and African-Americans.

Judges have barred some portions of Alabama’s immigration law, and it may be further curbed because of the Supreme Court’s June decision to sharply restrict states’ authority to protect legal residents from illegal immigration. The decision was part of the court’s June 25 decision striking down most of Arizona’s SB 1070 law.

The court, however, allows state officials to check the residency of suspected illegal immigrants during traffic stops and arrests, and to then pass them to federal officials for possible deportation.

Alabama’s law is popular in the state, regardless of complaints from Democratic politicians, ethnic lobbies, and from farmers and chick-processing plants and other low-wage employers.

The complaints were echoed in the media and by various progressive advocates.

“Alabama is already at the low end of states in employment and economic vitality [and] has long struggled to lure good jobs and shed a history of racial intolerance,” said a November 2011 New York Times editorial, titled “The Price of Intolerance.”

The criticism increased in December after police detained Honda and Mercedes executives until they could produce evidence that they were in the country legally.

“Suddenly the reality of what the state has done hit people in the face,” said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a progressive law firm with $190 million in assets, according to its 2009 tax filings.

The immigration reform was passed by “a xenophobic and anti-immigrant local government,” said Moises Naim, an advocate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The anti-immigrant law is in direct conflict with the pro-foreign investment posture of the State,” he wrote in December 2011.

Naim did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for a comment about the Airbus factory.

“Gloating doesn’t help prove my point,” said Ball, the GOP legislator who supports the immigration reform.

Progressives “lose credibility when they try to do it… [but] I don’t have to overreach — I can take the most cautious response to their criticism and the evidence just proves them wrong,” he said.

“If you just let things play out, the truth will rise to the top,” he added.

Follow Neil on Twitter