Georgia recently passed legislation prohibiting migrant workers from working the field. The result? Crops rotting on the vine, and an imperiled state economy.
Jay Bookman’s recent AJC column about Georgia’s new anti-immigration policy illustrates how rash legislation targeting migrant workers can poison state economies.
As you may remember, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal last month signed House Bill 87, a law designed to drive undocumented workers out of Georgia. The bill, which created a new criminal offense of aggravated identity fraud for anyone willfully using phony documents to get a job, had the intended effect: migrant workers were run out of towns across the Peach State.
Now, unsurprisingly, Georgia is facing some unintended — and dire — consequences.
According to Bookman, the new labor shortage has forced Georgia’s farmers to leave “millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields.” A new survey ordered by Deal found that Georgia’s farmers are at least 11,000 workers short, a problem he tried to medicate by offering 2,000 unemployed criminal probationers for hire.
As Bookman pointed out, even if all 2,000 probationers agreed to work at $8 per hour with no benefits, the problem would be nowhere near fixed. In Bookman’s words:
“It’s hard to envision a way out of this. Georgia farmers could try to solve the manpower shortage by offering higher wages, but that would create an entirely different set of problems. If they raise wages by a third to a half, which is probably what it would take, they would drive up their operating costs and put themselves at a severe price disadvantage against competitors in states without such tough immigration laws. That’s one of the major disadvantages of trying to implement immigration reform state by state, rather than all at once.
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.”
Georgia’s situation, besides being sad, exposes the complexity of America’s illegal immigration problem. The residents of South Park summed it up with, “DEY TOOK YER JOBS!”
Sure, but dey also made yer fruit affordable and yer produce competitive in the national economy.
According to a Washington Post article, the unemployed probationers are not exactly thriving in their new jobs.
Hopefully, this will be a lesson to other states considering similar bills. When lawmakers pass rash, simplistic measures to solve a problem as complex as immigration, they risk destroying their state’s economy.