Posted on February 27, 2024

How Lax Immigration Policy Drastically Changed the Character of an Alabama Town

Daniel Taylor, 1819 News, February 2, 2024

It’s more than a 1,000-mile drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to Albertville, yet the small city known for its fire hydrants and chicken processors has become the face of immigration, legal or otherwise.

To see how the Latino immigrant population has impacted the predominantly white, working-class community, one needs to look no further than an area known affectionately by some locals as “Little Mexico.”

It encompasses a strip of Hispanic-owned auto dealers, mechanics, bakeries, restaurants, barbershops and supermarkets bearing Spanish names along Alabama Highway 205, just a short drive from downtown Albertville and its city hall, county courthouse and old brick buildings typical of many small towns in Alabama.

According to U.S. Census data, Alberville’s Hispanic population was virtually nonexistent in 1990, with just 77 reported out of the total population of roughly 14,500. That began to change in the mid-1990s when many immigrants flocked to the city, most seeking work at the Wayne Farms poultry processing plant near the town’s high school.

By 2010, nearly one out of every four Albertville residents was Hispanic, as the population ballooned to over 6,000 out of 21,160. The most recent Census data for 2020 showed the Hispanic population still around 28.7%, though other sources estimated it could be as high as 33.7%.

According to the 2023 federal report card, Hispanics made up almost 57% of Albertville City Schools’ student body, and 29.4% of students had limited English proficiency. Those numbers grew from 41.6 % and 12.4%, respectively, since 2015.

With such a significant increase in Hispanics in a short period, Albertville became ground zero for the national immigration debate, capturing the attention of state and federal lawmakers and prominent corporate news media.

Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions made Albertville part of his push for immigration reform and closing the border under then-President Donald Trump. Former State Sen. Scott Beason pointed to Albertville in his House Bill 56 — which was referred to by many as the strictest immigration bill in the nation — as an example of how illegal immigration was negatively impacting Alabama.

“It was kind of the hotbed in Alabama, where a lot of the illegal aliens were moving to,” Beason told 1819 News. “…It was having a real impact on schools and healthcare and everything else.”


As a city council member at the time, Jeanie Courington acted as an unofficial liaison for the burgeoning immigrant community. She had many Hispanic friends who helped her see things from their perspective.

She helped organize a march in 2006 to protest immigration reform and ran for mayor in 2008 with a message of embracing the Hispanic community.


Prominent resident Teresa Ferguson described the 1990s as “Mayberry and the third-world colliding.” She was one of the first residents in the area to link the increase in drug crimes, prostitution and strain on school resources to the rise of illegal immigrants, and she played a major role in attracting Sessions’ and Beason’s attention.

She told 1819 News of a conversation she had with Sessions about him helping her Chinese daughter-in-law enter the United States.

“I was talking to him, and I said, ‘It really would be a lot easier if I just flew her to Mexico and brought her in the back of a pickup truck,'” she said. “I was just joking with him, and the look on his face was like I had slapped him because this was so early on that everybody was not aware of all this and us being such a magnet.”

Ferguson formed a group of concerned business owners, city leaders and teachers to help organize and address the illegal immigration issue. She began giving state lawmakers tours of Albertville to show them areas worst impacted and eventually landed an audience with then-President Trump during his 2016 campaign.

“I told him, you don’t have to do anything extra, just enforce the laws that are on the books,” she said. “It’s not that hard, and nobody wants to do it.”

Ferguson was unsure if things in Albertville had gotten worse since HB56 was struck down, and even though Trump, if he retakes the White House in 2024, has promised to deport the criminal immigrants who have entered the United States under the Biden administration, she said: “There’s no way to turn the clock back.”

Sources show that Alabama’s illegal immigrant population has hovered around 60,000 over the last decade, peaking at 90,000 during the Obama administration. However, since that state can’t enforce federal immigration laws, the only way to track criminal migrants is when they have run-ins with local law enforcement.


Former APD officer Jason Keeton, who worked undercover on the narcotics unit, said drugs become a more prominent issue as Mexican cartels moved in along with the flood of migrants. He said he went from finding a couple of grams of meth during a traffic stop to seizing several pounds at a time years later before he retired in 2018. He said the cartel remains a big promoter of the drug trade in Albertville.

“It’s not what you see on TV,” he said. “It’s low-key. They’re not going to advertise.”


Recently, the flow of Latino immigrants has given way to migrants from other countries, primarily Haitians seeking asylum. {snip}


Alabama’s federal delegation, both in the U.S. House and Senate, have been vocal about the illegal immigration crisis at the southern border and its impacts on the country.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who hails from nearby Guntersville, has also condemned Biden’s “dangerous immigration policies,” which he blamed for an illegal alien, who was to be deported after sodomizing a 13-year-old boy in Marshall County, being able to make it back into the county where he was arrested after being seen with children at a local store.


Marshall County voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2020 as he promised to close the border and build a wall. Immigration remains one of the top issues for voters in the 2024 presidential election, and Republicans aren’t the only ones complaining about the porous border.

Recently the liberal mayors of New York City and Chicago have both bemoaned the influx of migrants arriving on their streets from Texas, straning their resources. If large, well-funded cities are hurting to accommodate what equates to a less than 2% increase in their immigrant population, small cities like Albertville could face an uncertain future if current trends continue.