Ala. law cracks down hard on illegal immigrants

a University of Alabama student from Huntsville, holds a sign and chants while protesting HB-56
Alabama's new immigration law could hurt the state's farmers. When only five pickers showed up to harvest his sweet potatoes, farmer Keith Smith (in the orange shirt) saw possible ruin: the loss of his half-million dollar crop.
CBS News

Alabama's tough new immigration law went into effect Thursday -- surviving, for now, a challenge from the Obama administration and others. The law will allow officials to check the immigration status of students in public schools and give the police new powers to determine if someone is in the country illegally. A federal judge Wednesday upheld the law's key provisions. CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann was in Alabama with more about the new law and its impact.

Under Alabama's new immigration law, beginning Thursday, police can question and detain suspected illegal immigrants, and hold them without bond.

The law's supporters complain the 60,000 people here illegally costs Alabama taxpayers a quarter-billion dollars a year in schools and social services.

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And Governor Robert Bentley promises enforcement will begin right away.

"We have just passed a law that conforms with federal law," he said. "We will see what happen. We expect them to do their job now and we'll see if they are going to do it."

But when only five pickers showed up Thursday morning to harvest his sweet potatoes, farmer Keith Smith saw possible ruin: the loss of his half-million dollar crop.

"They're running scared because of this new law," said Smith.

"And you're in trouble?" asked Strassman.

"I'm in trouble. Bad trouble."

Smith's 200 acres need 20 pickers, mostly Mexican nationals. "There is not enough documented people here to supply that workforce," he said.

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"Most of your workers are here illegally?" asked Strassman.

"Sure," said Smith. "If they got documentation, they got a better job than working for me."

Fernando Aldaman is a Mexican national who has worked Smith's farm since 1992. Strassman asked him if everbody's scared. "Yeah," said Aldaman.

"Now are you here legally?" asked Strassman.


"Are you scared?

"Yeah I'm scared. I'm scared."

Smith's pickers make about $100 a day. He supports immigration laws -- just not this one that threatens his third-generation family farm.

"If you want to get rid of illegal immigrants, quit eating," he said. "That's for everybody nationwide. If you want to get rid of them, quit eating. That will solve the problem."

Gov. Bentley said Alabama's new law is not about racial profiling. Only people suspected breaking the law will be asked for their immigration papers.

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley asked Strassman if there has been any reaction to the law's provision that allows officials to check the immigration status of students in public schools.

"Alabama spends [about] $160 million dollars a year estimating the children of illegal immigrants," said Strassman. "We've had reports locally around here that some of those families worried Thursday kept their children home or pulled them out of school altogether."

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.