Nightly News   |  October 07, 2011

Federal officials concerned about Ala. immigration law

The Justice Department Friday asked an appeals court to block Alabama's tough new immigration law, which took effect last week. Federal officials say the law invites discrimination against all foreign-born residents. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: In this country, the Justice Department today asked a federal appeals court to block Alabama 's extremely tough new immigration law which took effect last week. Federal officials say the state law invites discrimination against all foreign-born residents, and they're especially worried about its effect on children. Our report tonight from NBC 's Kerry Sanders .

KERRY SANDERS reporting: Alabama 's new immigration law is perhaps most confusing to children. In just one week they have been told teachers will not single them out. But when a group of students near Birmingham with Hispanic sounding last names was told to assemble...

Unidentified Boy: Our principal told us to come -- all the Mexicans to come to the library.

SANDERS: ...it was all tears.

Unidentified Girl: Half of the kids were already crying.

SANDERS: As the kids enjoyed a birthday party this week, they explained the school meeting was, in fact, to make sure they understood school officials would deport no one.

Mr. DAVID SEALE (Jameson Middle School Assistant Principal): We're already look at about a quarter of our Hispanic population indicating that they will be leaving us very soon.

SANDERS: Alabama 's farmers say while this new state law is doing as it was designed, undocumented immigrants are indeed leaving, it's left the agriculture industry as the victims of unintended consequences. With 30 acres of tomatoes still to be picked, farmer Brian Alexander says most of the workers are now gone. How many people were harvesting?

Mr. BRIAN ALEXANDER: We had roughly 85 to 90 workers.

SANDERS: And now?

Mr. ALEXANDER: Forty to 45.

SANDERS: Alexander says farmers want to hire Americans or those legally here, but no one wants the jobs.

Mr. KEITH SMITH (Cullman,, Alabama Farmer): As long as people eat, go to the grocery store and go to the restaurants, we're going to have to have these workers.

SANDERS: In the first week of this law, farmers, poultry processors, contractors say while they've all lost workers, they're yet to see a rush to fill those jobs, despite Alabama 's 9.9 percent unemployment rate.

State Senator SCOTT BEASON (Republican, Alabama): They may have to adjust the pay a little bit, but Alabamians will work hard and they will take these jobs.

SANDERS: Senator Beason authored Alabama 's new immigration law because, he says the federal government wasn't doing its job. A law that may eventually force many of Alabama 's estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants out of state, but not out of the country. Kerry Sanders , NBC News, Steele, Alabama .