Don’t tell me you’re surprised that Gov. Nathan Deal is having second thoughts about cracking down on businesses that hire illegally. I’m certainly not.
Deal is playing the very same game that Georgia’s elected officials have played for years — excoriating illegal immigrants on the campaign trail but refusing to pass tough laws that would force employers to hire legally.
Here’s the dirty little secret that everybody knows but no one wants to admit: some Georgia industries, including agriculture, are utterly dependent on illegal labor. No matter how much farmers are willing to pay, few Americans are going to take on the back-breaking, bone-wearying miserable labor of picking peaches or Vidalia onions. Georgia needs those undocumented workers.
As I wrote in a column last year:
During the go-go ‘90s, construction managers, agricultural concerns and carpet manufacturers demanded the cheap, pliant labor that illegal immigrants were happy to provide.
In 1998, the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) conducted raids on Vidalia onion fields at the beginning of the harvest season. Crews scattered, and the harvest was stalled. Farmers freaked and called their congressmen.
Eight members of Congress, including Republicans Saxby Chambliss (then in the House) and Jack Kingston and Democrat Sanford Bishop, signed a letter to then-Attorney General Janet Reno complaining about the raid and a “lack of regard for farmers.” The INS backed down.
During campaigns, Republican elected officials play to their constituents with tough talk about guarding the border and cracking down on illegal immigrants. But when they take office, their business allies object, and they back down.
There is nothing new about this, folks.