Earlier this week, FITSNews posted a scathing criticism of South Carolina’s new immigration law and the effects it would have on the state’s tourism industry. In addition to creating a mass of new bureaucracy and giving small businesses a hard time, it also threatens the heart of the state’s tourism industry:
Undocumented workers comprise a sizable percentage of the employees who keep our state’s tourism economy up and running. And the new enforcement … is set to begin at the peak of the summer tourism season.
But all indications are that American workers essentially don’t want to do the high-effort, low-skill jobs that drive the tourism industry. As a result, FITS says, the immigration law “could wind up depriving the state’s largest economic engine of literally thousands of workers.”
That’s exactly right, but it’s also only half the story. Agribusiness is just as much of an economic engine in South Carolina as tourism, and one need only look at states with similar laws to see how the agricultural industry will be affected.
In Alabama, farmers are having to downsize or let their crops die in the field because American workers are simply too unskilled or unwilling to do the work normally done by Hispanics. Alabama’s law drove many immigrants — even legal ones fearing persecution — out of the state, and farmers are having trouble finding workers to harvest their crops.
A crew of four Hispanics can earn about $150 each by picking 250-300 boxes of tomatoes in a day, said Jerry Spencer of Grow Alabama, which purchases and sells locally owned produce. A crew of 25 Americans recently picked 200 boxes — giving them each $24 for the day.
“When undocumented workers are taken out of the economy, the jobs they support through their labor, consumption, and tax payments disappear as well,” wrote the authors of a study showing the wide-ranging damage Arizona’s similar law is doing to the state’s economy.
Attorney General Alan Wilson wants the law to go into effect immediately, despite the Justice Department’s legal challenges and an impending Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s law next year. However, the unintended consequences suffered by states with similar laws deserve further study before South Carolina ends up hurting the industries and workers it was trying to help.