Circuits of Power in Alabama's Immigration Politics: Labor Justice and Corporate Social Responsibility

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Virginia Tech


At the time of its debate and passage in 2010-2011, Alabama's immigration law evoked support and opposition from across the state and nation. Despite the outcry, the Alabama business community projected a pronounced public "silence". This silence was particularly curious because of the law's clear and intended goal of self-deportation of Latinos who are a significant labor source for Alabama agri-businesses and food processing industries. The key question for this dissertation is: Why did the poultry processing industry, which has high populations of Latino employees and a significant industrial presence in Alabama, stay publicly silent despite a predictable impact on their labor supply?

This qualitative analysis used the lens of the circuits of power model to interrogate this question. The findings indicate that Alabama poultry processors found themselves susceptible to the same opportunities and challenges as any other social actor confronted with the racialized, politicized, and historically contingent challenges facing Latino labor in Alabama. In other words, these business actors were fully socially embedded actors within Alabama. I demonstrate that individual residents, relevant associations, Alabama's politicians, and even the poultry processors themselves never fully realized the political vulnerability of their particular embeddedness until it was too late for poultry processing employers to publicly act to protect their Latino employees from this unjust state law.

I collected and triangulated data from multiple sources, including semi-structured interviews, media reports, state and national statistics, official websites, and legal documents. Through discourse and content analysis of this data, I developed a case study that demonstrates how Alabama's poultry processors were on a collision course with Alabama state politicians over immigration reform, but they never saw it coming. In so doing, I raise important questions about limits on the "real" power of economic actors for achieving self-interested business outcomes when those interests contest strongly-held social and cultural norms that are infused with a particular history of race, difference, and alterity in local spaces. I demonstrate that these limits raise questions for the democratic process and have consequences for economic actors with regard to corporate social responsibility claims as they pertain to labor justice.



Power, Immigration Policy, Corporate Social Responsibility, Critical Theory, Race and Ethnicity, Nuevo South, Labor Justice, State Politics