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Anti-illegal immigration bill stokes backlash in Alabama fields

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Among its many measures, the new legislation in Alabama requires public-school officials to document which schoolchildren are not documented, plus it empowers law-enforcement officials to require documentation when people are pulled over for routine traffic stops.

Lawmakers at the farmers' hearing all said they stood by their support of the measures but said there were opportunities to tweak it to accommodate agribusiness concerns next session. In talking with the Birmingham News Thursday, state Rep. Jeremy Oden (R) said one solution was a temporary-worker program that would allow workers from outside the US to work here seasonally.

US Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas is proposing a similar measure at the federal level, which would allow as many as 500,000 seasonal workers into the country each year. Yet many agribusiness leaders say guest-worker programs like these are costly, because they often require farmers to foot the bill for housing and other costs.

Advocates for immigration reform insist that the ultimate solution is for farmers to market their jobs to US workers, an approach they say would resonate at a time of high unemployment rates and a troubled economy.

Yet agribusiness leaders say US workers are not accustomed to farm work and would drive up costs by demanding higher pay and benefits.

This debate is also raging in Georgia, where farmers are protesting an immigration bill passed in the spring that is similar to the one in Alabama. Among its measures is a requirement forcing businesses with 10 employees or more to use a federal database to verify that each worker is allowed to work in the state legally.

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