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In Alabama, Legal Immigrants Wanted for Dirty Jobs

Alabama factories desperate for workers are recruiting Africans
Mbanfu is helping African refugees get jobs in Alabama poultry plants
Mbanfu is helping African refugees get jobs in Alabama poultry plantsPhotograph by David Walter Banks for Bloomberg Businessweek

File this story under Unintended Consequences. HB 56, as Alabama’s year-old immigration law is known, was supposed to drive illegal Hispanic immigrants from the state and free up factory jobs for natives. Workers cleared out, but a boom in hiring of Alabamians to chop chicken and clean fish hasn’t materialized the way the law’s backers had hoped. So employers are turning to another immigrant work force: refugees.

Esene Manga, a 22-year-old Eritrean refugee, moved from Atlanta to Albertville, in northeastern Alabama, just days after HB 56 took effect last year to work at a Wayne Farms poultry plant, where he now earns $10.85 an hour cutting chicken breasts. The job is hard, but the money’s good. “We are here to work,” he says. Albert Mbanfu, refugee employment director for Lutheran Services of Georgia, says 19 other African refugees started at the factory at the same time. (People admitted to the U.S. as refugees are legally allowed to work the day they arrive.) The men are among hundreds of African and Haitian refugees, along with Puerto Ricans, unexpectedly benefiting from a labor shortage caused by HB 56. “The demand is still there,” says Mbanfu. “Even now, if I called [Wayne Farms], they would say, ‘Send all of them.’”