When farmers step forward and explain the reason they hire immigrants, legal or undocumented, to work their fields and poultry houses, the rush to pass state laws appears as a move absent of deep thought and discussion.

Many lawmakers argue that some figure as high as 80 percent of their constituents wanted a tough immigration law. The figure is perhaps believable, but only because the public may have been deprived of some valuable information and the benefit of forums that could have brought the issue into greater focus.

Immigration has always been the arena of the federal government, a fact that is supported by many of the nation’s top legal experts. The federal government, however, ignored the issue for many years. Reports of drug dealers and other undesirables passing over the borders, as well as some violence, raised alarms among American citizens and, finally, politicians. The truth is that immigration is not an issue that Democrats or Republicans cared to address. Party leaders had their reasons for ignoring the problem.

And if you wonder about their reasons, just think politics. A new and relatively inexpensive labor pool for businesses. Potential political allies for others.

For farmers, however, Hispanic immigrants have been the backbone of their industry. The notion that American citizens would man the farms in large numbers long vanished in this society. Farmers have known that for a long time.

The needs of American farmers are too often ignored as we take for granted the food we pick off grocery shelves or shovel into our mouths at restaurants. Have Americans presumed for all these years that the food they consume was largely harvested by fellow citizens? Or perhaps most of us knew that the harvest was mainly the work of immigrants and that was OK, until alarms were set off in Arizona and other locations.

With a delay imposed on Alabama’s immigration law, lawmakers and farmers should meet for public discussions to reach a better understanding, and a more realistic solution to this issue. Talk of issuing work permits or simplifying citizenship is beginning to sound more appealing than heaping new laws upon existing law. The effort is simply becoming too expensive and could damage the economy of Alabama and other states.

There is no evidence that immigrants working in the fields are keeping Alabamians on the unemployment line. If that were the case, the unemployed would be lining up at farms across the state asking for work.

The best solution is for lawmakers to look at this issue from a practical standpoint and provide a means for farmers to hire visiting workers legally. And certainly if longtime citizens want the jobs, hire them.

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