Restrictive Immigration Law Continues to Threaten Georgia’s Farming Industry

Just days after part of Georgia’s immigration law, HB 87, went into effect, farmers in the Peach State are panicking over how they will find enough workers to harvest their crops—some of which are already starting to spoil. Although a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction enjoining two key provisions of HB 87 last month, the provision requiring employers to verify the immigration status of new hires (E-Verify) went into effect July 1. In an industry where 80% of workers are said to be undocumented—and few American citizens, legal workers or even convicted criminals are willing to step in to do the work—Georgia farmers are now speaking up about how future labor shortages will impact the state’s $1.1 billion industry.

According to the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association, nearly $300 million worth of crops are at risk if the state’s 11,000 empty agricultural jobs continue to go unfilled. Charles Hall, the Association’s Executive Director, said many farmers have already noticed a dip in migrant workers as of late May, with harvest labor down nearly 30-50%. Come fall, those labor shortages are likely to continue. According to Hall:

If something doesn’t happen soon, Georgia’s crops could suffer even more than they already have. Some fields of less valuable crops were abandoned in the southern region of the state because there wasn’t enough labor to harvest it, leading to concern about the economics of supply and demand.

Local farmer Drew Echols said that HB 87 is already hurting Georgia businesses. According to Echols, there are fewer Georgia-grown products on the shelves of Atlanta’s farmers markets, and the products that are available are slightly more expensive. “Ultimately it all goes back to the consumer,” Echols said. “People are only going to pay so much for a chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A or a basket of peaches.”

But like many small business owners, Echols’s biggest concern is that the state is making immigration an employer problem. Many argue that undocumented immigration should be handled on the federal level through federal reform legislation, not with mandatory immigration laws that state businesses can’t afford. Jose Gonzalez of the Associated Industries of Florida complained that “mandating the costly and burdensome E-Verify system is tantamount to a new tax on Florida’s employers.”

The fact is, outside of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, E-Verify will hurt farmers in Georgia as well as small business in many states where employers are required to verify employees’ immigration status. Small businesses simply don’t have the resources or infrastructure to run the program and U.S. immigration law provides few legal channels for low-skilled workers. As the president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of commerce said, “Mandatory E-Verify at the state and federal level would stifle job growth by placing a disproportionate regulatory and costly burden on small business.”

Real immigration reform—reform that won’t stunt small businesses or hinder economic growth—needs to come from Congress in the form of a comprehensive bill that accounts for enforcement of our immigration laws in tandem with a program that legalizes our current workforce and fills the needs of our 21st century economy. Otherwise, we’ll have a patchwork of immigration laws that leaves rotting fruit and rotting businesses on the ground.

Photo by Les_Stockton.

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  • http://miracoalition.org/ LisafromMIRA

    Georgia is a real-life example of what happens when enforcement-only policies are pursued without really thinking about the consequences. We at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition just wrote a blog post about where E-Verify without comprehensive immigration reform goes wrong. Check it out at http://miracoalition.org/en/press-room/easyblog/entry/the-errors-of-e-verify.

  • http://www.floridafarmworkers.org Jeannie Economos

    Growers in Florida are worried. Agriculture is the second largest industry in the state. Growers need workers. Farmworkers need jobs. Immigrants need to be able to live and work without fear and intimidation. They are suffering a double whammy – decline in jobs because of the downturn in the economy and threats of detention and deportation because of the anti-immigrant sentiment and laws. This leaves them vulnerable to even more abuse, mistreatment, exploitation, and oppression. Anyone who eats food in the U.S., unless they have their own farm, should care about how these anti-immigrant laws are going to affect their food supply. We depend on farmworkers – whether we realize it or not. We need AgJOBS to pass. We need comprehensive immigration reform, not a stalemate in Congress.

  • Phil Ley

    I’m sorry to see so much produce spoil in the ground or on the trees, but as far as I know, nobody put a gun to the farmers’ heads, forcing them to vote REPUBLICAN. Maybe now people will start to think before they vote. This all could have been avoided if the Republicans would have allowed reform of our antique immigration laws, but, for the sake of a few votes, they opted to hurt the whole country rather than do what is good for all.

  • Pingback: Why are there so many Hispanic related topics recently? - City-Data Forum

  • Pingback: Washington Farmers Fear Economic Impact of National E-Verify Bill | LA Progressive

  • Diz

    Since when is voting to uphold the Constitution a Republican thing? As far as I’ve been taught it’s our job to make sure it’s followed? If kids these days weren’t so lazy, heck if our whole country wasn’t so lazy and scared to get there hands dirty then we wouldn’t have a problem finding field hands! farmers shouldn’t have to look so hard for good reliable workers. I hear people complain all that time that there are no jobs but yet they won’t take the ones that are available! Because that would be “lowering their standards” Well people where do you think your food comes from?? Think about that when you think that Jobs like this are below you and stop whining that there are no jobs?

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