Most Georgia voters didn't see this coming - except for those with the good sense to follow this blog. You may recall back in July last year I posted a timely column on the disastrous effects of successful immigration law enforcement by the Obama administration. Businesses which depended on the kind of labor only available with undocumented workers were suffering as the INS pursued "silent raids", which effectively made it impossible to retain those workers. Gebbers Farms, a huge, 500 acre orchard was losing hundreds of reliable employees this way - and couldn't replace them with Americans because, well, as one legal immigrant put it: "Show me one American --just one--climbing a picker’s ladder.”. In other words, after all the hue and cry that undocumented workers were stealing American jobs, the government did something about it, the jobs opened up, and suddenly there weren't any takers. That was back in July.
Well, wouldn't you know it, Georgia Republicans heard the same hue and cry and May 13th of this year passed HB87, the "Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011" to recover all the jobs illegals were stealing from Georgia citizens. Among other things, the Act requires Georgia businesses to check the immigration status of their employees through E-Verify - a strategy identical to what the INS was using with their effective silent raids. In addition, it "empowers police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects. And it penalizes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants or encourage them to come here". Practically overnight, the bill had precisely the effect it was intended to have, and thousands of undocumented workers began to leave the state and move on.
Then, on May 17th, ( 4 days after passage of the bill! ) the AJC ran an article - the mere title of which made me fall off my chair, seized by spasms of hysterical laughter:
"Governor asks state to probe farm labor shortages"
Honestly, I lack the necessary skills as a writer to describe how gigantically funny this is. Governor Nathan Deal signed an Act into law, knowing without any possibility of doubt it would cause labor shortages, now he's shocked!, shocked! that there are labor shortages and "... asked for the investigation [into the shortages] Thursday in a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. Deal wants Black’s department to survey farmers about the impact Georgia’s immigration law, House Bill 87, is having on their industry and report findings by June 10..."
"The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association has estimated the labor shortages afflicting South Georgia counties could put as much as $300 million in crops at risk."
Come on man. Does this guy really expect us to believe he didn't know this would happen? Of course he did. HB87 was nothing more than cynical pandering by Georgia Republicans to get votes. Heck, I remember months before, while the bill was still being debated, agribusiness concerns in particular were warning that it would result in severe labor shortages and the consequent loss of hundreds of thousands in lost revenues. Steve, I knew that - I mean, sitting here in my own comfy little house-e-by with only this dinky computer to work with - I knew that. And of course, so did you if you had bothered to read my post from last year.
Anyway, the results of the survey are in. As reported in the AJC, nearly half of the 134 farms surveyed across 61 counties say they are experiencing labor shortages, and only 24% said they had an adequate number of workers. The survey included space for additional comments. This one was representative:
"The labor pool has dried up because Hispanics are leaving Georgia as fast as they can. They are terrified about what will happen when this law goes into effect. Since we cannot find immigrant labor, we are trying to hire non-immigrant labor. Even with pay rates above $10 an hour, we cannot find people interested in working outdoors, in the heat. They will stay for one or two days and then leave. Our work is labor intensive, so we are losing money every day by not having dependable, hard-working laborers. This is just another blow to our business on top of what we have already lost due to the economy." (my emphasis).
Steve, this is serious. We're in a recession, Georgia is one of the most affected states and this is costing us real money. In 2008, a survey from UGA estimated the total impact of agriculture on Georgia's economy to be 65 billion dollars - and much of that comes from the cultivation of labor intensive commodities like fruit, vegetables and horticultural products. We can't afford to mess around with this industry.
One other comment from the survey struck me as exquisitely ironic:
"Agriculture desperately needs a workable labor solution–perhaps a user-friendly guest worker program."
Steve, up until they passed this bill, they already had one!