Crackdown in Georgia keeps migrants away
Georgia farmers are feeling the effects of a tough crackdown on illegal immigration — a sudden dearth of migrant workers needed for harvests.
Sat, May 28, 2011 at 02:52 PM
IMMIGRATION: Georgia followed the lead of Arizona last month in passing state immigration bill HB87, which empowers police to check the immigration status of people stopped even for minor traffic offenses. (Photo: Bob Jagendorf/Flickr)
Farmers in the state of Georgia say they are starting to feel the effects of a tough crackdown on illegal immigration — a sudden dearth of migrant workers needed to bring in their harvests.
Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said the labor pool of produce pickers has shrunk by 30 to 50 percent since passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act on April 20.
He said growers have told him that workers are bypassing Georgia to avoid police harassment and going to North Carolina, which is next in line during the growing season.
"We're very worried," said Melinda James, owner of OSAGE Farms in north Georgia.
"We need about 150 workers when we get going in June and we have 26-28 lined up now. Whenever we have tried to advertise locally for people here, we have gotten poor response, so we need our workers to come back."
Georgia followed the lead of Arizona last month in passing state immigration bill HB87, which empowers police to check the immigration status of people stopped even for minor traffic offenses.
The law, which goes into effect on July 1, will also impose penalties on businesses that hire undocumented workers.
A federal court has blocked the most controversial provisions of the Arizona law, involving spot police checks of immigration status.
But supporters of the Georgia immigration law, which was sponsored by Republicans, argue that the state needs to enforce immigration laws in the absence of effective federal action.
They also contend that the state's schools, jails and hospitals are overburdened by illegal immigrants.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimated in a report in February that of the estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the United States, 425,000 live in Georgia, making it the US state with the seventh largest population of illegal immigrants.
Since the law's passage, however, growers say migrant workers from Mexico and Guatemala appear to be steering clear of Georgia.
"I don't know what we are going to do. We feed America and if we can't feed America, we'll start importing food from other countries and then we'll see how much that costs," James said.
Hall said the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association is working with the Georgia Department of Labor to try and line up workers for the produce industry.
The jobs can pay $12.50 (around nine euros) an hour, and Georgia's unemployment rate is 9.9 percent.
"They're not taking American jobs in the produce industry because you can't get Americans to do nothing in the field," said Kent Hamilton of Southern Valley Fruit and Vegetable in Norman Park, Georgia, in south Georgia.
"Maybe they (immigrants) are taking construction jobs, but not these," he said.
"We need to give these people some kind of work visa and allow them to come and go. People that would work here are going on to North Carolina, which doesn't have a law like this."
Dan King, a grower in Rebecca, Georgia, said he has 15 acres (six hectares) of squash field that he probably will not be able to harvest.
"Workers are scared of Georgia," he said. "The politicians did this way too fast."
Copyright 2011 AFP American Edition