Early signs of trouble for harvests in wake of Georgia’s stringent new immigration law

I’ve written numerous times (including here and here) about my reasons for disagreeing with the passage of HB 87, Georgia’s new law that threatens draconian punishments for undocumented workers in the state while providing for very weak penalties for employers who hire them.

With so much opposition from Georgia’s business interests, I had hoped that Governor Deal would find a reason to veto the bill. But no. Still, some of the news was not so dire after the bill was signed. It did not look, for example, like Georgia would be the target of serious boycotts.

Now the AJC is reporting the first reasons for worry in a piece about severe shortages of migrant farm workers: Farmers tie labor shortage to state’s new immigration law, ask for help.

Here’s how the piece opens:

Migrant farmworkers are bypassing Georgia because of the state’s tough new immigration enforcement law, creating a severe labor shortage among fruit and vegetable growers here and potentially putting hundreds of millions of dollars in crops in jeopardy, agricultural industry leaders said this week.

Meanwhile, the state’s Republican labor and agricultural commissioners are discussing issuing a joint statement in the coming days about what they intend to do about the labor shortage, a Labor Department spokesman confirmed Thursday.

Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said he has been in close contact with Labor Commissioner Mark Butler and Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black about the shortage, calling it the most severe he has seen.

Even though the law does not take effect until July 1st, it seems that many migrant workers have been made “skittish” by inflammatory Spanish-language news outlets and are simply choosing to work in other states.

According to “Dick Minor, a partner with Minor Brothers Farm in Leslie in southwest Georgia who says he is missing about 50 of his workers now”: “People are just saying: ‘I am not going to Georgia. The law is terrible. We are going to get in trouble there. Let’s just go on.'”

Unemployment is obviously high in Georgia, but how many of that 9.9% unemployed will be willing to work harvesting crops, especially if this early heat continues, for an average of $12.50 per hour?

This could turn out to be quite an economic hit for rural Georgia.