On May 29, I commented on an article about the, ahem, fruits of Republican immigration ‘reform,’ which have included labor shortages, rotting crops and pissed-off farmers in Georgia. Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Constitution has an update on the disastrous after-effects of the enactment of the legislation. An excerpt:
After enacting House Bill 87, a law designed to drive illegal immigrants out of Georgia, state officials appear shocked to discover that HB 87 is, well, driving a lot of illegal immigrants out of Georgia.
…Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.
Barely a month ago, you might recall, Gov. Nathan Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed HB 87 into law. Two weeks later, with farmers howling, a scrambling Deal ordered a hasty investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, as if all this had come as quite a surprise to him.
The results of that investigation have now been released. According to survey of 230 Georgia farmers conducted by Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, farmers expect to need more than 11,000 workers at some point over the rest of the season, a number that probably underestimates the real need, since not every farmer in the state responded to the survey.
The solution? Gov. Deal now wants to deploy an estimated 2,000 unemployed criminal probationers who live in s.w. Georgia to pick what’s left of the rotting crops. As Bookman says, “Somehow, I suspect that would not be a partnership made in heaven for either party.” Bookman adds:
The pain this is causing is real. People are going to lose their crops, and in some cases their farms. The small-town businesses that supply those farms with goods and services are going to suffer as well. For economically embattled rural Georgia, this could be a major blow…We’re going to reap what we have sown, even if the farmers can’t.
Other possible “solutions” to the farm worker crisis being bandied about include raising wages — and consumer prices — to hopefully attract more workers and weakening enforcement of the new law, which is not likely to impress migrant farm workers much. Can prison labor be far behind?
Latinos are 8.8 percent of Georgia residents, but approximately 3 percent of Georgia’s registered voters, so the Republicans undoubtedly figure they won’t pay too much of a political price for the new law. Harassing the undocumented workers of Georgia’s leading industry may score a few points with wingnut ideologues for the Republican Governor and state legislators. But Dems may just have gained an edge with Georgia’s farmers, who live and work in the real world.