Georgia’s big secret: State needs illegal workers

WASHINGTON — I’m going to let you in on a big secret, a closely-held and dirty truth about Georgia’s farmers: They depend on immigrants, some of whom are here illegally.

What’s that? You knew that already? Not such a secret?

Well, Georgia’s agri-business leaders are posing and posturing as if it is. They dare not admit that they need the sweat and toil of migrant laborers so much that they are not always fastidious about searching for legal documents.

But the gut-busting pressures of a harsh new Georgia law targeting illegal immigrants — modeled after a controversial law in Arizona — may force farmers to speak the truth out loud. At the very least, it may force them to campaign openly for a broad immigration reform proposal that grants legal status to illegal laborers.

It’s not looking like a good year for many of Georgia’s farmers, who were already struggling with a warming earth. As drought conditions worsen in some portions of the state — upgraded from moderate to severe — searing heat and stingy rainfall are yellowing leaves and stunting crops.

Now, some of those lucky enough to reap bountiful harvests may be forced to leave fruits and vegetables in the fields for want of enough hands to pick the onions and tomatoes, beans and watermelons. Farmers have complained that some of their seasonal workers from Mexico, Guatemala and other points south have failed to show up, frightened away by the new law, which takes effect July 1, and its promise of increased scrutiny of those with Spanish surnames.

Dick Minor, president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable

Growers Association, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that some migrant workers are skipping Georgia because they fear harassment. “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.’ They have options. And what they are saying is, ‘Georgia is not the place to go,’ “ he told reporter Jeremy Redmon.

(For what it’s worth, the labor shortage casts doubt on

the old canard that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from hardworking American citizens, a reliable set-piece in arguments from nativist diehards. Even at an average wage of $12.50 or so an hour, native-born Georgians aren’t eager to take the work the fields offer — dirty, joint-maiming, miserably hot and impermanent. Once you’ve picked one crop, you must move to another state for a different harvest.)

Still, Minor and other agri-business leaders continue to insist that they only hire legally — and that the new law has scared away workers with green cards or other legal documents. That may be. It’s certainly easy to imagine that workers who don’t wish to be harassed would avoid a state that has hung out an unwelcome sign.

But it’s also likely that some of those workers don’t have legal documents and fear deportation. Hints of that abound — including a recent history wherein Georgia farmers complained to their Congressional delegation when federal agents raided their fields.

There are also the frequent complaints about the federal program that governs guest workers, a system that allows temporary laborers to enter the country legally. Many Georgia farmers complain it is too bureaucratic and costly to use. So how many of them rely, instead, on workers whose papers are suspect?

Georgia farmers aren’t the likeliest allies of immigration reform activists, but necessity can create strange alliances. The fields need strong backs and willing hands, and there aren’t enough of those around.

279 comments Add your comment

Not Blind

June 3rd, 2011
10:10 am

So what you are saying is that the plantation owners gotta have slaves or else ? What we have to do is find a NEW WAY FORWARD. Real, positive, CHANGE. To bad Obama was just trying to get elected when he spoke of CHANGE.

Cobb Woman of Color

June 3rd, 2011
10:13 am

The inmates in Georgia’s prisons should be used on the farms. The money they make can go back to the state to pay for their stint in prison.

killerj

June 3rd, 2011
10:25 am

More mexican women need to marry here so we can produce a master race for farmers,problem solved!.Go Tea Party.

CopyandPaste

June 3rd, 2011
10:28 am

Cynthia supports having a lower caste picking our fruits and veggies, or Cynthia supports a slave class. Apparently, legal citizens don’t want to take SLAVE WAGES to work in the fields.

Reva

June 3rd, 2011
10:33 am

NO. The problem is hussein obama NEEDS illegal mexicans for their vote.

ramzad

June 3rd, 2011
10:34 am

Good; they ought to stay away and let the produce rot on the ground. Latinos built Atlanta for the Olympics and help with the glitz and glory of this area, and then the State turned around and blocked them. Pick your cabbage yourself. Hispanics are people too.

Gator Joe

June 3rd, 2011
10:35 am

Cynthia,
I refuse to sympathize with agri-business, especially big agri-business when they are solid Republican supporters. Collectively and individually, they deserve the consequences of their votes and actions. I do have sympathy for the immigrants who will face even more harrassment, intimidation, and discrimination. This legislation is feel- good fodder for the bigots in the legislature and their bigoted supporters, many of whom are farmers.

Fletch

June 3rd, 2011
10:37 am

So according to the farmers, without the benefit of illegal aliens, they will suffer undue hardship. I believe the the same case was made for slavery back in the good old days. Oddly enough, after the Civil War, Georgia still remained an agricultural state. I wonder how farming and growing was able to survive between the 1880’s and the 1980’s in Georgia without the benefit of slaves or undocumented workers?

Hmmmm…..

Jack

June 3rd, 2011
10:37 am

Cobb Woman of Color

June 3rd, 2011
10:13 am
The inmates in Georgia’s prisons should be used on the farms. The money they make can go back to the state to pay for their stint in prison.

Now I kinda like that idea.

AngryRedMarsWoman

June 3rd, 2011
10:42 am

Actually, what they need is a decent guest worker program run by a Federal Government that is in control of its borders. A business model based on a workforce that is in the country illegally is also based on a workforce that is not protected by minimum wage, workplace safety, work comp and other regulations that I think most decent people would agree are important. A business model based on breaking laws is not an acceptable business model. What if farmers decided it would be better to just kidnap people from their homes, torture them and make them work the farm for free – oh yeah, as a nation we already decided that business model is not acceptable. Somehow the Southern farms were able to adjust their business model after slavery, they can do the same thing with respect to illegal workers – hire locals, hire legal migrants, etc. I am not a big fan of regulations, but I have noticed that each time a new is passed the Chicken-Littles run around screaming about how it will mean the end of everything and somehow businesses find a way to make it work. If you are too stupid or lazy to adjust your business to the changing conditions then you deserve to go under. Happy Friday.

Rod

June 3rd, 2011
10:44 am

Jails and Prisons are full of prisoners who have nothing to do, they could easily repair buildings, paint, work fields, etc. Please don’t give me that cruel and unusual punishment garbage

Captain Midnight

June 3rd, 2011
10:45 am

@ Cobb Woman of Color. Lady, you hit it out of the park. Prison labor. Problem solved!
Maybe if these punks knew they’d be bused to south Georgia to pick onions in August, they’d keep their butts out of jail. I love it!

Good Grief

June 3rd, 2011
10:45 am

I like the idea of putting prisoners to work in the fields, but I’m sure the ACLU would tell you that it is inhumane, cruel, and unusual punishment. Plus, you would have to increase the guards on duty to watch over some of the fields out there.

Also, how is a law targetting illegal immigrants bigoted? Or do you subscribe to the Debbie Wasserman-Schultz school of thought that finds it odd that people believe illegal immigrants are here illegally?

Owl

June 3rd, 2011
10:46 am

Actually Democrats need illegal workers’ votes. It’s the economy stupid.

Elizabeth

June 3rd, 2011
10:46 am

It is not the illegals that I object to. We probably do need them for some of the farm work. It is the fact that when a child is born in the USA they are automatically a US citizen. I think the law needs to be changed in that respect. I would bet that there wouldn’t be as many kids born here if they didn’t automatically become citizens. The drain on us and the economy is the fact that we have to provide WIC, Peachcare, education, and so on and so on for these children. I don’t hate children but why should we have to shoulder the bill for them.

Tommy Maddox

June 3rd, 2011
10:48 am

“State needs illegal workers.”

There’s that word again – illegal. I thought I’d beat Kamchack to the punch.

BeeJay

June 3rd, 2011
10:50 am

I’m going to let YOU in on a big secret: America found it could handle its farms without slaves. And we benefited EVERYONE when we did so. American will find it can handle its farms (and other businesses) without people who are lawbreakers. And it will benefit EVERYONE when we do so.

People with the argument that we “need” illegals make me sick. We need them like a hole in the head. Pay a decent salary, raise the prices, and I’ll gladly pay them. It’s better than the amount of my money (taxes) I pay to keep the illegals here!

I’m sick to death of attitudes like yours. The law is the law. Would you want civil rights laws broken? I seriously doubt it; in fact, you would be the first to stand up and holler “Foul!” We should not pick and choose which laws we follow. If the laws are ill-advised, change them, legally. In the meantime, I will NEVER advocate for keeping people here just to work an onion field if they are breaking the law by being here. I will NEVER advocate paying for their housing, food, education, medical care, and God-knows-what-else that law-abiding citizens cannot even get.

Again, you make me SICK!! You and your pious, whiney, liberal “but we need them” cries.

Had enough of Cynthia

June 3rd, 2011
10:51 am

Cynthia, The only reason Georgia farmers think they need illegal workers is because the worker work cheap and for the farmers they are off the accounting books for paying Workman’s Compensation and all the those other state and local taxes employers have to pay for regular citizen workers.

Also, Cynthia what say you about all the fraudulent Social Security cards and drivers licenses the illegals use to obtain the jobs in the first place.

Your argument just doesn’t hold up and the Georgia farmers can spend that $75,000 for a mechanical onion picker like the farmers who play by the laws and pay their taxes the right way.

AJC, Please fire Cynthia for good this time!!!

gsmith

June 3rd, 2011
10:55 am

The AJC needs new writers

yuzeyurbrane

June 3rd, 2011
10:57 am

Cynthia, I have sympathy for your dilemma. On the 1 hand, you want immigration reform; on the other hand, I feel certain that you supported Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union in their struggle to get decent wages and working conditions for American farmworkers. And now you have made your deal with the Devil: you have chosen exploitative agribusn. over American farmworkers because you hope they will push for immigration reform. !st, real reform ain’t gonna happen. 2nd, maybe we ought to get something positive out of this, like force agribusn. to reform the way they treat their workers. I know you hate to hear it, and I do, too, but to paraphrase some of the commentators above: “slavery is not an option.”

bunch of morons....

June 3rd, 2011
10:57 am

farmers are not asking for illegal workers, they are stating that the new immigration law is scaring off migrant workers. even if a worker is here legally, but looks like he is from south of the border, he could get harassed just as much as one who is here illegally.
12.50 doesn’t sound like slave wages to me. ever worked retail or in a restaurant? not going to make that much in rural areas. it is back breaking work and the lazies in our society would rather make less working the drive through at mickey d’s than busting their hump for extra money.
have illegals worked in agriculture? sure they have. just like construction and landscaping and restaurants and manufacturing. not too terribly difficult to fake papers.
when lazy, fat ass americans are not willing to do the jobs, you tell me what the answer is.
we have an economy that continues heading south. this law does nothing to make things better for anyone.

granny godzilla

June 3rd, 2011
10:58 am

we must take money away from the people that have earned it and give it to the people that need it

it should not matter if you have squander your opportunities as an american

SaveOurRepublic

June 3rd, 2011
10:59 am

Having been raised on a farm, I have total empathy for the plight of (small) farmers. However, the big agri-business, corporate outfits are simply wanting to give slave wages for labor…versus paying a decent amount to Americans. We’re in the midst of “Depression 2.0″, so this business of “jobs Americans won’t do” is complete horse squeeze. The agri-business outfits simply want to leverage these illegal invaders to line their coffers. The illegal invasion needs to be stopped…and that can be accomplished via the end of birthright citizenship, taxpayer subsidies for invaders & their jackpot babies. If the puppets on “Cr@pitol sHill” weren’t co-opt’d by the Globalist Elite….this would have been done years ago.

fedup

June 3rd, 2011
10:59 am

Exactly what were the farmers doing before the border problem got out of control and when have AMERICANS ever needed illegals for anything? Hmmm, let’s see how about running up healthcare premiums for ER visits that could be taken care of at a doctor’s office, how about helping to run down Medicare faster because the budget is so stretched between other social programs due to (what was that?) government run programs like Medicaid and Assistance to Families in Need because illegals are given services that our tax dollars go to, how about doing hit and runs, critically injuring people, crippling a family structure because the bread-winner can’t work and there is not an insurance company around to help foot any bills as a result?! I could go on and on, but hey—-there are 9.1% of Americans without jobs right here in the State of Georgia. How about this for all you bright eyed pro-illegal lazy ***es; petition the government to pay American farmers what they are supposed to–benefit: we don’t have exploding watermelons from China filled with pesticides to give us cancer, we have the FDA who heavily regulates FDA products that are not imported; the farmers will also be able to hire domestic workers that are legal, pay taxes, and just might be able to pay them a decent wage! How about this: for the college students that want to go into Agriculture, put them in rotation for internships-less money, social service (change), experience the grunt work, and it’s a win-win! Let’s talk about how we can invest in AMERICA the LEGAL WAY! They are called illegals for a reason! Man, this topic could go on and on!!! No man is an island, but AMERICA definitely does not need a bunch of illegal aliens burdening our country just to tender some crop! Cynthia Tucker; are you serious? Give me a freaking break. Couldn’t you get more creative than to write a crappy article like this?! NEXT!!!!

Charles

June 3rd, 2011
11:01 am

How many people in Georgia are on unemployment, sitting at home collecting a check. Would it not be more productive for them to be spending a little time in the fields getting some excercise? Most liberals would rather we import illegals who weigh down our schools and emergency rooms.

Just Sayin'

June 3rd, 2011
11:01 am

Apparently fast food restaurants need them too. Ever look in the back of a McDonalds or a Chick fil A? Apparently “immigration” is the only word of english they know too.

Hankie Aron

June 3rd, 2011
11:03 am

Bee Jay and had enough of Cynthia, you guys have both made my day. Love both the posts.

LydiasDad

June 3rd, 2011
11:04 am

No, we don’t need illegal workers idiot. If we’re ok with breaking the law in order to lower prices, than let’s just make prisoners work free. It’s just another law. It’s not that Americans won’t do the work of illegals. It’s that Americans won’t do the work for the ILLEGAL WAGE we pay illegals. Get a clue you left wing loon.

Dekalb taxpayer

June 3rd, 2011
11:05 am

I’d rather pay higher prices for fruits and vegetables outright than pay the hidden medical costs and food stamp and other public assistance costs of illegal workers.

Captain Midnight

June 3rd, 2011
11:07 am

@ Good Grief, if it was inhumane, it would be illegal for anyone to do it paid or not. As for extra guards, money that would have been paid to the “illegals” goes to the Dept of corrections.
So many ways that this could work. Heck, throw the deadbeat dads right in there with em.

Red

June 3rd, 2011
11:07 am

Using prison labor to harvest agriculture is one of the worst solutions I can imagine.

With the political clout of the farm lobby, you would see sentencing of able bodied ‘workers’ skyrocket right before harvest time. We elect our judges in Georgia. They need campaign contributions and agriculture needs cheap labor. Chilling.

Jim

June 3rd, 2011
11:08 am

At 10% unemployment in Georgia, how about we stop paying unemployment now that we are not hiring illegal aliens.

RxDawg

June 3rd, 2011
11:09 am

I tend to agree… besides a lot of the immigrants actually have a good work ethic. So I hope it will rub off on all the lazy morons we have around here living off the guvment.

However, the fact that so many are coming into the society and isolating themselves off creating their own language speaking areas and not assimilating into society… well that really doesn’t seem right to me. If I ever move to another country (and the way the US is going, I can see this happening unfortunately) there is no way I wouldn’t learn the language of that country to be able to do day to day things. More should be done to allow these sub societies to learn our language and become American. When I watch rallies on TV, and see people flying flags other than USA… well that doesn’t make me really side with them.

John Birch

June 3rd, 2011
11:10 am

If we run out of prisoners (unlikely during the Obama economy) take the long-term unemployed, say after three months out of work, and make them work three days a week for their unemployment check and leave them two days to look for a better gig.

Original Thought not Necessary

June 3rd, 2011
11:10 am

First of all, if you refer to the President as Hussain Obama you’re ignorant and partisan to such an extreme that you are not worth the time it took to write this. Such silliness.

Second, we are all going to pay the price for the zealots when we all have to pay much higher prices for farm goods.

That being said, I’m honestly conflicted about this issue as I believe anyone with any intellectual honesty should be. I think BeeJay makes one good point in his/her red faced skreed and that is that we did find a way to adjust after the abolition of slavery. But things were different then in terms of economic realities and technology. Using Vidalia as an example there is no getting around the need for great numbers of workers to harvest. There is no such thing as an efficient “mechanical onion picker” as anyone who spent time on a south Georgia farm would know. (Summers in college were my time.)

Bottom line, at least for me, is that this is an amazingly complex problem that cannot be solved at either extreme (i.e “illegal is illegal, deport them all” or “reform is not necessary, let them all stay.’) If we continue to line up on the extremes like soldiers on a 19th century battlefield them we will not only never solve this problem, we will all suffer while we scream at each other. We need to have a rational, intelligent discussion absent rhetoric and ignorance. Kind of like adults talking.

Bill

June 3rd, 2011
11:10 am

The issue is that we have become DEPENDANT on them. If the industry requires a labor force that is breaking the laws that we live by, then the industry needs to rethink their business policies.

yuzeyurbrane

June 3rd, 2011
11:11 am

I also suspect Cynthia’s #’s come from the Farm Bureau Federation as they have little basis in fact. I have some experience in this area and feel comfortable in stating that most migrants needed for harvest work on a piece rate basis and most do not average $12.50 per hr. I read 1 article recently where a Vidalia onion grower claimed he paid his workers a whopping 38 cents a basket!! Do you know how large those baskets are? They are big. Many growers contract for harvest crews through labor contractors who are usually Mexican and who notoriously rip off the workers. Housing? Ever wondered why they are always behind the tree line on the other side of the fields? Because growers don’t want you to see the windowless waterless chicken coops they house their illegals in. And the company store? It is alive and well. So workers are often in greater debt after the harvest and the accounts have been settled. Do they really have a choice but to move on with their labor contractors to the next plantation? This may not technically be slavery but it is a pretty close imitation. It’s worth a try to see if decent wages and working conditions attract an American workforce. If growers can only make it thru the use of quasi-slaves, they deserve to have their crops rot in the fields and to try another line of busn.

LydiasDad

June 3rd, 2011
11:12 am

I talked to a large peach grower in Ft. Valley, GA this weekend. They agree that the new bill is the way to go. I saw a lot fewer Latinos on the line this weekend too, which probably means the illegals aren’t being used as much. Fact is fact. Take it racist as you want; you probably will.

joe

June 3rd, 2011
11:12 am

No we don’t…with GA unemployment being around 10%, those legal 10%-US citizens who are looking for work need to get off their duffs and go to work on the farm. If it was good enough for our ancestors back in the day, it is good enough for us now. If you are able bodied and need a job, you have no excuse. Personal responsibility, ya’ll.

JP

June 3rd, 2011
11:12 am

I guess I have to farm for a season to be empathetic to farmers – but right now I am not.

Captain Midnight

June 3rd, 2011
11:13 am

Yea Red, we know the prisons are all empty right before harvest time.

zeke

June 3rd, 2011
11:13 am

No Judge, if they are qualified, can rule against laws that enforce laws!! You can see by the rulings on this agenda and on obozocare that many federal judges are simply not qualified, but, inject their own agenda and ideas instead of ruling by the CONSTITUTION!!!

Original Thought not Necessary

June 3rd, 2011
11:14 am

Oh, and one more thing, illegals can’t vote, especially not here, not now. And second, if you can go into my homeland of South Georgia and find me one liberal farmer I’ll kiss your a**.

jarvis

June 3rd, 2011
11:14 am

Large scale farming is corrupt on a large scale. It is the most over-subsidized industry in the country. The Corn Lobby one of the most-aggressive pool of crooks in Washington. Nothing those people say should be taken seriously. They are very close to evil.

Fletch

June 3rd, 2011
11:14 am

bunch of morons – “this law does nothing to make things better for anyone.”

Have to disagree there, at the very least, I hope it will eliminate the need for me to have a translator on hand in order to do a new employee enrollment when we bring a new client on board. Oh, except for the tax forms. For some reason the “undocumented” population seem to know EXACTLY how to fill out the deductions on the G-4 and W-4.

gsueagle

June 3rd, 2011
11:16 am

you want illegals here only because it might benefit the democrats. send all illegals back where they came from.

casual observer

June 3rd, 2011
11:16 am

America needs jobs and the columnist is telling us we need illegals. The Obama administration is bringing this country to it’s economic knees and the best we can come up with is how Georgia needs illegals? How about a policy that increases private Industry employment? How about an energy policy that allows us to produce our own energy and tap our own resources? Or continue with more $4.00 a gallon gas and 9.1% unemployment. Spending that’s out of control.

HOLY COW at least address the issues! Not how a country that has survived for years all of the sudden now needs illegals. Save the Americans !

Original Thought not Necessary

June 3rd, 2011
11:18 am

Dekalb Taxpayer. You said “I’d rather pay higher prices for fruits and vegetables outright than pay the hidden medical costs and food stamp and other public assistance costs of illegal workers.”

By that logic I assume you are in favor of health care reform as you also realize that it costs much less to provide people healthcare than to have them continue using the E.R. as their PCP. Once treated they can’t pay and boom, we all pick up the tab with higher taxes i.e. hidden medical costs.

zeke

June 3rd, 2011
11:18 am

I personally think profiling should be a legitimate law enforcement tool! If a white guy robs or assaults someone, are you not going to look for a white guy? If a black woman kills someone, are you going to look for a white woman? if an islamic terrorist blows up a car killing hundreds, are you going to look for an 80 year old white grandmother? SORRY, that last instance is exactly what we are doing! Since illegals are 99% majority of Latins, WE MUST LOOK FOR LATINS TO ENFORCE IMMIGRATION LAWS!!!! PROFILING IS A LEGITIMATE LAW ENFORCEMENT TOOL!!! That is why the aclu, splc, naacp and other anti U.S> groups are against it!!!!

becky

June 3rd, 2011
11:19 am

What we need is for those illegals to become legal and then be legal immigrants. I was speaking with a Hispanic Co worker that came to this country legally and she gave me an AWESOME perspective. If they have been here more than two years earning cash they have earned enough to do what it takes to become legal but instead that take most of their money and send it back home. If you want someone to think about the children and families, then that is the responsibility of the parents. If you come to this country illegally and you don’t do what you need to do then you are not thinking of the consequences of your actions or how they will impact your child. How can a family come when their child is three, stay illegal and their child reaches age 17 graduates from a public school and they never take the steps to make everything legal? Especially if the child is excelling!!!

I’ve also worked with the welfare system and they are able to get benefits for their US born children and never pay a dime into the state or federal tax system. There are US citizens that pay into the system and can’t get them. It is a shame with an Elderly person applies for benefits, they have been working all of their lives and paying into the system but only eligible for $10. Seriously??? Much worse if you are a citizen and you are $1 over the income limit you are denied. If one or both illegal parents are working their income is prorated for their children and they are able to get full assistance even if the total household income is over the non prorated income of a citizen. The child can be a newborn and receive a full allotment of food stamps and get WIC. They will get free formula which is all a newborn will need but tell me who will benefit the food stamps??? So while you are all up in arms needing them see what it’s costing you to have them. I know some of them were making more than my co workers and my co workers couldn’t get benefits because they were over the income limit. While we continue to say no to the law and yes to illegal activity, think about your family, friends and neighbors who could really use some help but can’t get it because they have too many assets, income or whatever. That’s what we should be up in arms about.