Georgia Growers Stressed by Immigration Reform Bill
The arrival of migrant workers every spring, many of them undocumented workers, used to be as dependable as the turning of the seasons itself. They work their way north picking vegetables and fruits, first in the state of Florida, then Georgia, and farther north afterwards.
This year, however, is a different story. Growers have observed that many of these workers are now avoiding Georgia, primarily because of the tough penalties imposed by the state’s new law against those who use fake work documents. The law also allowed the police broader latitude when it comes to checking the immigration status of workers. Georgia’s law was modeled after the one passed in Arizona.
Growers say that the result of the passage of the law is a scramble to pick the vegetables and fruits off the ground before they rot.
Charles Hall, the executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said, “The reports we’re getting back from our growers is that they are getting between 30 and 50 percent of the work crews that they need to get the crops in.” The association represents mostly medium and large-size operations in Georgia’s $1.1 billion fruit and vegetable industry.
According to growers, the improving economy and the resulting slight rebound in the construction industry might be the reason why some of the mainly Hispanic workers they usually depend on were not able to come to the farm this season.
However, growers admit that the primary reason why workers are bypassing Georgia is the new legislation. Jason Clark Berry of Blueberry Farms of Georgia, said, “I know a lot of crew leaders. Everyone I’ve talked to from Vidalia to Baxley, where my farm is, down through Homerville has said the exact same thing. People are afraid to come.”