Immigration Law and Georgia Farm Owners

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Georgia is putting in place a new law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants, and many across the state are nervous. Businesses fear an economic boycott, the Latino community fears police officers will abuse their new powers, and farmers in South Georgia fear the law will hurt them dramatically. Georgia is known for its peaches and Vidalia onions, the state vegetable. The specialty crop is produced in just a few counties in the rural southeast part of the state, where the soil is just right. Georgia, Alabama, and Utah are the first states to follow in the footsteps of Arizona, passing laws that expand the power of local police to check the immigration status of residents. Legislators who back the new laws say they’re sending a message that they want illegal immigrants to leave their states, and that the federal government should do more to stop illegal immigration.

The law which was scheduled to take effect from July 1st has created a fear factor among the illegal immigrants, the after effect being that Georgian farmers are not able to find even half the manpower they need to harvest their crops. While there’s a federal visa program, H2a, to recruit foreign seasonal farm workers, farmers describe it as overly bureaucratic and too expensive. Among other things, it requires farmers to provide free housing that passes federal inspections for workers, when they say some seasonal workers on the border prefer to commute home and do not want to live on the farm. In a survey, 92 percent of Georgian farmers said they don’t use the H2a visa program.

Meanwhile, those favoring HB 87 Act say legal immigrants in the US don’t need to fear from this new act in Georgia. The undocumented immigrants will, however, be deterred from entering into the US and thus save Georgia’s public schools , hospitals and other social services from getting unduly strained, the proponents of this act maintain. The ongoing labor shortage in Georgia could mean a big risk for crops worth more than $300 million, maintains the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. It is being held that the loss could even be greater than this amount and could only be known once the harvesting has been completed for summer crops after July this year. Meanwhile, the status of the new law remains in limbo. It’s set to go into effect July 1, but a federal judge is weighing whether to delay it while a lawsuit over the law’s constitutionality is settled.

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