Alabama farmers have proposed using prisoners to work their fields to replace migrants who fled the state after it passed the country's harshest anti-immigration law, officials said Tuesday.
"The suggestion to use prisoners who are eligible for work release programs was made as a way to help farmers fill the gap and find sufficient labor," said Amy Belcher.
A statement by the department said the meeting with the farmers was convened "to help solve the chronic labor shortages created by Alabama's new immigration law."
Known as HB56, the new law requires local police to verify the immigration status of anyone they have a "reasonable suspicion" of being in the country illegally.
The administration of President Barack Obama has challenged the constitutionality of the law, arguing it infringes on federal powers, and federal courts have blocked key provisions pending a definitive ruling.
But the law touched off an exodus of mainly Hispanic workers who moved to other states because of fears of being deported, prompting complaints by farm and construction industry groups of a shortage of workers in one of the poorest US states.
The state has released no official figures on how many workers have been lost since the law went into effect in September.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there were about 120,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state before the law passed.
Source: AFP American Edition