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October 6, 2011

Immigration law issues extend beyond area farms

Landlord, church leader note more problems as Hispanic families depart

CULLMAN — The reach of Alabama’s immigration law is extending beyond area farms, affecting other businesses and church programs.

Before U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn affirmed portions of the state law on Sept. 28, Cullman businessman Bobby Noles watched as two of his Hispanic renters departed. When the judge’s ruling landed, five more departed from his Cripple Creek apartments in Cullman.

Noles is expecting more to leave.

“I’ll be losing about $4,000 a month in rent. Even if you try to explain that they can stay, they’re nervous and don’t fully understand the law. They believe there’s something that could happen to cause them trouble,” Noles said.

Noles, who said he generally considers himself a Republican, believes that lawmakers did not take time to fully study the issue before passing what is being recognized as one of the toughest immigration laws in the nation.

“To be honest, when I first realized that a lot of Hispanic people were moving into the area, I was concerned. I didn’t know what to think,” said Noles, a former educator. “But when you get to know people, and in my case, working with them and renting apartments, you realize what good people they are. I think that always holds true. You just have to take time to know people.”

Noles said the vast majority of Hispanic renters have been good tenants, describing them as polite and excellent neighbors. He also said the work ethic of the Hispanic workers he has encountered has been outstanding.

“I have strong feelings about this law. I really think it was crafted too quickly and that it was just a popular move at the time. I’m concerned about the economic impact it will have on our community and all over the state,” Noles said.

Noles also said that business owners who hire immigrants could deduct certain taxes from those workers, even though the majority would never collect the benefits because they would return eventually to their homes.

“I know that collecting taxes to help pay for things is an issue. That can be done,” Noles said. “And you also have to think of the huge impact they’ve had on our economy when they arrived here. They buy gas, pay rent, buy groceries and a lot of other things. Sure, they send money home, but they have to live while they’re here and they spend a lot of money to do that.”

Noles said he is also disappointed that the state’s Republican leadership is wanting the federal judge to uphold all of the law.

“I think that’s wrong. I think the farmers are on to something when they were talking about establishing a permit for two, three or four years. I just feel like the lawmakers got carried away,” Noles said.

While Noles said he recognizes that many lawmakers felt they were acting on a public mandate, he said he is disturbed by residents who make harmful comments about Hispanics.

“I think some of these people who say so much are the same type of people who are against any minority,” Noles said.

At First United Methodist Church in Cullman, the Rev. Mitchell Williams said plans for an authentic Hispanic dinner Wednesday night were canceled because so many people had left the area when portions of the law were affirmed.

“We also had plans for worship services this winter for Hispanic members of our community who were calling us their church home. We’ve put those plans on hold because so many have left. We’re praying that they find another church home wherever they choose to settle,” Williams said.

An unexpected demand after the law was enacted has been the demand for the church’s bus service. There is now a waiting list for the bus because of the large amount of Hispanic students the church bus delivers to area schools each day.

“We really didn’t expect this. We thought the demand wouldn’t be there because of the students that have reportedly withdrawn from schools,” Williams said.

Before the immigration bill was approved in the Legislature, many neighbors of Hispanic residents drove children to school. But fear of violating the law caused many of those residents to stop providing rides, Williams said.

“This is difficult because one question I have is what happens to a child who was born in this country, but the parents are not legal citizens, and the parents are deported? What happens to the children?” Williams asked.

* David Palmer may be contacted at 256-734-2131, ext. 213 or dpalmer@cullmantimes.com.

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