This item by J.P. Green was originally published on May 29, 2011.
Georgia is often classified with the reddest of states, not without some reason, even though a third of the voters are people of color. But the new Republican Governor Nathan Deal has just signed into law a bill which could push some white rural voters, thoughtful farmers in particular, into the Democratic column.
The reason is nicely encapsulated in the title of Jeremy Redmon’s Atlanta Constitution article “Farmers Tie Labor Shortage to State’s New Immigration Law, Ask for Help,” which explains:
This month, Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 87 into law. Among other things, the law punishes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants here. It also authorizes police to investigate the immigration status of suspects they believe have committed state or federal crimes and who cannot produce identification, such as a driver’s license, or provide other information that could help police identify them.
Georgia’s agricultural industry — the largest in the state — vigorously opposed HB 87 in the Legislature, arguing it could scare away migrant workers and damage the state’s economy
The consequences thus far, are less than impressive, according to Redmon:
Migrant farmworkers are bypassing Georgia because of the state’s tough new immigration enforcement law, creating a severe labor shortage among fruit and vegetable growers here and potentially putting hundreds of millions of dollars in crops in jeopardy, agricultural industry leaders said this week.
…Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said he has been in close contact with Labor Commissioner Mark Butler and Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black about the shortage, calling it the most severe he has seen. Hall said it’s possible state officials could hold job fairs to steer some of Georgia’s unemployed workers to these farm jobs, which pay $12.50 an hour on average. The state’s unemployment rate is now at 9.9 percent.
Farmers, however, say they often have little luck recruiting Georgia residents to work in their fields because it is temporary, hot and physically demanding. To recruit more workers, some farmers are offering signing bonuses, Hall said.
The law doesn’t take effect until July 1 but is already making migrant Hispanic farmworkers skittish, said Dick Minor, a partner with Minor Brothers Farm in Leslie in southwest Georgia who says he is missing about 50 of his workers now, threatening as much as a third of his crops.
Some farmers who work in Georgia’s $1.1 billion fruit and vegetable industry are now reporting they have only two-thirds or half the workers they need now and for the weeks of harvesting to come, Hall said. Farmers said the full extent of the shortages won’t be known until the coming weeks as they harvest their remaining crops, including watermelons and sweet corn. Hall estimated such shortages could put as much as $300 million in crops at risk this year.
Georgia’s pain may translate into Florida’s gain, reports Redmon:
Manuel De La Rosa, who recruits workers for Minor’s farm, confirmed many migrant workers are skipping Georgia for other states, including Florida. He said these workers became afraid after they heard Hispanic television news programs comparing Georgia’s new law to a stringent one Arizona enacted last year.
“Some of the people who were coming over here to [pick] cucumbers said: ‘No. They are going to catch us. They are going to put us in jail,’ ” said De La Rosa, a U.S. citizen. “Some of them were going to try another state where they have not passed this law yet.”
While white southern voters have often displayed a singular genius for voting against their own economic interests, the sheer idiocy of Republican immigration “reform” in Georgia and other states should give rural Georgians pause the next time some Republican leader prattles on about GOP pro-business creds. Redmon adds:
Meanwhile, the state’s Republican labor and agricultural commissioners are discussing issuing a joint statement in the coming days about what they intend to do about the labor shortage, a Labor Department spokesman confirmed Thursday.
No doubt Georgians await the next edition of GOP business acumen with baited breath, while state consumers may not be too thrilled with expected price hikes at the supermarket, courtesy of the Republican Governor and legislators. Here’s hoping Georgia Dems call them out.