But then as courts began blocking significant elements of the law and some loopholes became apparent, some of the workers who had fled for fear of arrest and deportation returned. Others were drawn back by their longstanding ties to the communities.
Victor Valentin, 25, and his wife, Maria Gonzales, 23, came to the Vidalia onion growing region in south Georgia five years ago and found work quickly. But when the state passed its law cracking down on illegal immigration, they feared they would be caught and deported, and left for neighboring North Carolina.
They didn't last long. With two young children and no support network there, life was difficult. At the same time, the situation in Georgia seemed to have calmed down.
"We still talked to people here, and we heard there weren't really any problems, that things hadn't really changed," Valentin said, explaining that the family decided to return to the Vidalia area after about nine months. He's found work harvesting pine straw since his return.
This year, Black and a number of industry leaders in Georgia told The Associated Press they haven't heard of any labor shortages.
The situation in Alabama is similar.
"No one seems to be having any problems," said Alabama's agriculture commissioner, John McMillan, who added that he has spoken with farmers who saw migrants return once it became clear the law passed in Alabama was, in practice, mostly toothless. Courts blocked most of the law's toughest sections, including one that required public schools to check students' citizenship status, and the massive arrests envisioned by some simply didn't happen.
Also, according to government statistics, thousands of employers in Alabama have been ignoring a provision in the state's immigration law that requires them to register with the federal E-Verify system, a program to electronically verify workers' legal status.