From MoultrieObserver.com, “Immigration Bill Could Hit Farmers” by Alan Mauldin, The Moultrie Observer, 15 Apr 2011.
Law would require verification of workers’ status
MOULTRIE [GA] — Georgia produce growers could spend a lot more time on paperwork and find it difficult to get workers to pick their crops under the state’s new immigration bill.
The legislation, HB 87, would, among other things, require many growers to use the E-Verify system to ensure workers’ legal status.
The law, approved late Thursday night on the last day of the legislative session, would not affect smaller operations. Producers with fewer than 10 employees on Jan. 1 of each year would be exempt, regardless of the number of farm workers they hire during harvest season.
Gov. Nathan Deal has not signed the bill but has indicated that he will do so.
Larger producers also would be less impacted because many of those hire guest workers under the federal H2A program, said Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association.
However, that program currently cannot meet the needs of all of the state’s growers, he said.
“If all the growers went to H2A for all their employees, it could not handle it,” he said.
About 7,000 farm workers used in produce are hired through the federal program, while about 85,000 workers are hired in the state annually, he said.
Hall said it is too early to determine if worker availability will take a significant hit.
The law likely will face legal challenges, as did a similar law passed last year in Arizona.
That is one uncertainty, Hall said. The law also does not take effect until July 2013, and it requires the Georgia Department of Agriculture to study the potential impact and make recommendations that could make it more farmer-friendly.
“I really wish they had done that study first and then looked into how they wanted to do immigration reform,” Hall said. “I’m sure we’ll have some opportunity to provide some input into this study.”
There is a possibility that growers could have insufficient workers to harvest the perishable fruit and vegetable crops, he said.
“The situation with fruit and vegetable growers, you’ve got a much heavier labor force because you hand-pick,” he said. “For fresh produce you can’t mechanically pick.
“From a normal operational standpoint, we would have preferred not to go to this until there is a reasonable federal program to provide the workers. Unfortunately there are not many local workers who are willing to work in the fields.”
Colquitt County extension agent Glenn Beard said the law also will mean more headaches in the paperwork required to meet the requirements of the E-Verify program.
“You’re going to have to have one person just doing this,” he said. “This is going to be more expense for anybody who uses foreign labor. This is going to be an additional expense and added risk. If they don’t do everything just right they might get fined for trying to do the right thing.”