Alabama Latinos Return to Work after Immigration Protest

Cash registers rang again and classrooms were back to normal in Alabama as Latino children and adults returned to work and school a day after staying away to protest the state’s immigration law.

Customers trickled into Hispanic-owned stores and restaurants Thursday, and the parking lot was full at a poultry plant in Albertville that closed Wednesday because of a lack of workers.

Latino immigrants, most of them of Mexican origin, are upset with the tough new law. Some have even fled the state since a judge upheld it a couple of weeks ago.

Officials say a one-day protest will have had little economic impact on the state.

Despite the return of protesters, however, things are not quite the way they were before the law took effect last month.

Many Latinos have left the state, leaving many businesses understaffed. And the number of students in schools in some parts of the state is considerably down, according to education officials.

To remedy the labor void, Gov. Robert Bentley is planning the creation of "Work Alabama," an initiative by the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations that matches temporary jobs with people looking for temporary work.

The department has streamlined the temporary job identification and application processes and is devoting additional resources to help employers deal with federal regulations to hire additional workers to meet workforce needs.

Some employers report that even workers who are in the country legally – indeed, including people who were born in the United States – have left the state because, as Latinos, they feel stigmatized by the new law, which allows police to check the immigration status of people they feel are in the country illegally.

The law also requires school officials to check the immigration status of children at the time of enrollment, as well as the status of their parents. No child, however, will be denied enrollment, state officials say, which is a right everyone has in regard to a public school education through senior year of high school.

Meanwhile, officials with the Tuscaloosa City School System held a meeting Wednesday to inform Hispanic parents of how Alabama's new immigration law would affect their families. The meeting brought more than 400 people to Northington Elementary School, according to a report by CBS 42.

Tuscaloosa City Superintendent Paul Mc­Kendrick told the crowd through an interpreter that children already enrolled in school would not be affected by the law. He also explained to parents that teachers would report numbers of undocumented children, but would not report names.

School officials said at least 28 Hispanic students have withdrawn from city schools.

Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson also appeared at the meeting and discussed his department's enforcement of the law with attendees, who expressed concerns about traffic stops and road blocks near largely Hispanic neighborhoods. Anderson, acknowledging that there were many questions about the law and its enforcement, gave out his office phone number to the gathering.

This story contains material from The Associated Press.

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