The Taxes on the Farmer Feeds Us All

I was watching Rock Center on TV when it hit me.  The segment was about the problems that they are having in the farming sector in Alabama.  Now that illegal immigrants have fled, there is nobody to work the fields and do this back-breaking work, a fields are rotting away.  Reporter Kate Snow spent time looking at the human side of this story about immigration policy, and the temporary use of prisoners to harvest these crops.  But because of the reluctance/fear of calling out ALEC or any Koch Brothers actions in the conservative MSM (1), Ms. Snow’s segment fell far short of its informative potential.

Alabama cucumber farmer Jerry Danford grows cucumbers which are sold to pickle companies.  By the time his crop is pickled, processed, and reaches retail stores, it historically generates about $20 million annually in retail pickle sales. Danford accused Alabama politicians of not even bothering to interview farmers like himself who would be affected by the proposed immigration legislation when it was up for consideration.

Danford, a lifelong republican, is angry at republican lawmakers in Montgomery who passed perhaps the most severe immigration law in the United States. He’s angry with the leaders that supported the legislation for what he sees as a political move that hurts not only farmers like himself, but the economy of the entire state of Alabama.

Since the signing of Alabama’s immigration bill this past summer, Danford has watched many of the illegal immigrant workers he depends on to harvest his crop simply pack up and leave. He worries that come spring harvest–when a provision of the immigration law will be in effect requiring that employers check the immigration status of all workers – he will not have any workers to work his fields.  The immigrants’ crew chief says that he will not recruit Mexicans to work in Alabama in the future because they risk being fined, incarcerated, and deported

“I would like for these lawmakers to go out and get me a pool of labor,” says Danford. (2)

After the commercial break, Ms.Snow spoke with Alabama Governor Bentley about Danford’s concerns.  Bentley noted that there would be a short-term “adjustment” to the new labor force, but this strict immigration law will reduce Alabama’s unemployment rate, which, at 10%, is quite high.  Bentley acknowledges that illegal farm workers will leave the state (that is the intent of the law), but he is convinced that unemployed legal residents will replace them on farms like Jerry Danford’s.  And Alabamians will not have to break the unenforced Federal law any longer to run their farms.

Indeed Alabama has set up a web site to try and attract local workers to working on farms.  Reports Ms. Snow “On several visits to Alabama, we did find some native Alabamians willing to work in the fields.”  However, since then, all of the American workers had quit. (3)

Danford says that the governor is wrong.  Based, he says, on his lifetime of experience with local workers, “the people that you could get locally, they wouldn’t — regardless of what you offered them, within reason — they wouldn’t put in the long hours. It’d take probably three (of them) to do what two of the immigrant workers do,” he says.  “They’d want to be on break all the time, going to the bathroom, going to get a drink, or, you know, something. They just don’t have the initiative to work, just plain and simple.”  He goes on to say that local workers will show up for a day and then quit, assuming that they apply at all. (4) 

But what if he paid a higher hourly wage?  The going rate now is $10 an hour. “The [pickle] company wouldn’t buy it from you then,” he says.  “They’d turn to suppliers in other states where labor is cheaper — states that allow undocumented immigrants to continue working under the radar.” (5)

So what does the future hold for farmers like Jerry Danford?  Certainly less labor-intensive crops, but people and companies all the way up the supply chain from his fields to the retail stores that sell $20 million of pickles are all affected by Alabama’s new immigration control act.

And, it is notable that Snow reports that a new forecast from the University of Alabama estimates the law will cost the state economy at least $40 million in lost revenue overall.  (6)

Faced with rotting crops and angry farmers in this bad economy, the State of Alabama has stepped in and is providing prisoners to harvest the fields—as a short term solution.  For now it is a “short term” solution because as Think Progress reports that in Georgia where they had already tried this plan, “the probationers picking cucumbers couldn’t keep up with their Latino counterparts and had all quit by afternoon”. (7)

Personally, I am disgusted that “state Rep. Scott Beason who sponsored the Alabama immigration law refused a challenge to pick tomatoes just like the illegal immigrants who he thought could be replaced. (8)

Tomato farmer Leroy Smith, second from left, talks with State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, in Steele, Ala. Only a few of Smith’s field workers showed up for work after Alabama’s new
immigration law took effect recently. (9)


And that’s what Kate Snow and Rock Center reported – the middle of this story. To understand the entire story in context requires that we see how this all came about.  After all, this is a blog about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The starting point of this story is the new immigration bill which Mr. Danford identified as the source of this problem.  Where did this bill come from?  This did not originate in the Alabama legislature.  This began in ALEC as model legislation 7K3 – The Immigration Law Enforcement Act.  This was approved by the full ALEC Board of Directors in June 2008, (10), and supplemented with model legislation 7K5, the infamous No Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants Act (the almost word-for-word precedent to Arizona’s SB1070 Act). (11)

Alabama is one of 18 states implementing strict immigration laws.  While the U.S. Attorney General is taking the states (starting with So. Carolina) which have implemented their own immigration laws to court on constitutional grounds, these new laws are being enforced.  And who is going to take a shot at a fine, jail, and deportation when they can work elsewhere.

And in this manner the corporate members of ALEC who wanted strict immigration laws paid their money to ALEC and received their model legislation.

But there is the very important second issue in the Rock Center segment–prisoners being used for the harvesting of these crops.  I worry if this a sign of things to come, or is it just temporary as currently claimed?

This, in turn, takes us to the issue of prison privatization, a key goal of ALEC since 1994 due to the presence of CCA, Wackenhut (predecessor to GEO), and the ever-present Jerry Watson of the American Bail Coalition. (12)

But ALEC is far too professional to use only its own members to investigate opportunities and devise strategies.  As key members of the Koch Brothers’ “Cabal, they have access to excellent think tanks and research institutes.  One of those institutes was also founded by Paul Weyrich (founder of ALEC)—the Heritage Foundation.  As far back as 1988 the Heritage Foundation was studying prison privatization after CCA tried to privatize the entire prison system of Tennessee in 1985.  (Interestingly, the Heritage Foundation study concluded that they could not say if privatization would save a State any money.) (13)

Another Cabal member, The Heartland Institute entered the immigration policy conversation in 2008.  “The right to migrate is a key human liberty that ought to be subject to limits only as a last resort. But the failure of institutions in the U.S. to assimilate new immigrants is real, and it makes unlimited immigration a threat to our own freedom. Both sides in the debate have ‘freedom arguments’ on their side.” (14)

While the Heritage Foundation could not say for certain that prison privatization would save the States any money, the NY Times has concluded that it does not. (15)

“The largest private prison corporations, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, have spent millions of dollars trying to convince federal and state legislators that privatization saves taxpayer money without sacrificing tight security and adequate conditions for prisoners. However, the evidence supporting this claim has been mixed at best. A study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that promised cost savings “have simply not materialized.” When cost savings are reported, they are often mitigated by private prisons’ tendency to refuse high-cost inmates.

“Even if cost savings were substantial, prison privatization is intrinsically incompatible with the supposed goals of the U.S. prison system. Private prisons have few incentives to pursue meaningful rehabilitation or reduce recidivism rates. In fact, they have a vested interest in the continuation of the United States’ incomparably high incarceration rates.

“In order to ensure a steady flow of inmates, and thus a steady flow of profits, private prison corporations lobby for “tough on crime” laws that lock up petty offenders for long periods of time and do little to curb crime rates. They have historically enjoyed close ties with state legislators through conferences hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which advocates harsh sentencing laws. At the conferences, corporations write “model bills” with legislators that have contributed to the escalation of mass incarceration.”  (16)

Envision prisoners in Alabama working outside doing back-breaking work that other Americans do not want to do.  Brings back memories of slave labor in the southern states for good reason.  Witness the article “Arizona Brings Back Slavery for Latinos”.  The embedded video from Cuentame spells the situation out very neatly:  “First, the state passes a harsh immigration law. Then, it detains large numbers of immigrants. Third, private prisons (LCS, CCA, GEO) receive fresh inmates. And finally, the artificially created labor shortage is supplied by the new inmates. Does this sound like modern-day slavery to anyone? (17)

That is also the ACLU’s stand.  “The imprisonment of human beings at record levels is both a moral failure and an economic one — especially at a time when more and more Americans are struggling to make ends meet and when state governments confront enormous fiscal crises.”  But it does not stand in the way of reality..  “Mass incarceration provides a gigantic windfall for one special interest group — the private prison industry — even as current incarceration levels harm the country as a whole. While the nation’s unprecedented rate of imprisonment deprives individuals of freedom, wrests loved ones from their families, and drains the resources of governments, communities, and taxpayers, the private prison industry reaps lucrative rewards”. (18)

I say “it does not stand in the way of reality” because ALEC and the Heritage Foundation set out to accomplish two goals, and brought them both to fruition – despite any opposition.  They created an industry and then created the infrastructure and manpower to fit.  Do you really think that this is a temporary measure, or is this the way it’s going to be—all around the country?  Do prisoners have human rights or do they forfeit them at the entrance to the prison? And just think, because of the conservative MSM, you are among the few who truly understand the problem.

Which makes you among the few who know what needs to be done to stop it.  Our group, The Voter’s Legislative Transparency Project is trying to set up a bus tour to travel around the country, stopping in as many cities as time permits, to hold full day teach-ins to assemblies wherever we stop.  Let people know about ALEC and the rest of the Koch Cabal, and show how they have been manipulating our country since 1973.  Teaching people to evaluate their candidates to see who is going to honor his/her oath of office, and who is going to be beholden to ALEC or to the Tea Party or even to…Grover Norquist?

[Note:  The title of this article, Taxes on the Farmer Feed Us All is from an 1897 song, reissued by Ry Cooder on his album Into the Purple Valley.  If you are interested, you can hear it performed by clicking here

(2), (3), (4), (5). (6)
(7), (8)
(9)  by Dave Martin, AP


Exposé Tracks ALEC-Private Prison Industry Effort to Replace Unionized Workers with Prison Labor

Based on “The Hidden History of ALEC & Prison Labor.” By Mike Elk and Bob Sloan (The Nation, August 1, 2011) which you can read here.

“Many of the toughest sentencing laws responsible for the explosion of the U.S. prison population were drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which helps corporations write model legislation. Now a new exposé reveals ALEC has paved the way for states and corporations to replace unionized workers with prison labor. We speak with Mike Elk, contributing labor reporter at The Nation magazine. He says ALEC and private prison companies “put a mass amount of people in jail, and then they created a situation where they could exploit that.” Elk notes that in 2005 more than 14 million pounds of beef infected with rat feces processed by inmates were not recalled, in order to avoid drawing attention to how many products are made by prison labor.:

This is the most complete interview I have seen to date.  It runs from about 27:00 to 46:17 of the video.  To watch this really interesting interview–and learn a lot about prison privatization and prison labor, please click here.