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

Good Grief

June 3rd, 2011
11:20 am

Captain Midnight – How about a rule where if you are an able-bodied individual who wishes to recieve government-funded entitlements (i.e.: welfare) then the government will help you look for a job, but at the same time we’ll send you to work in one of these fields. We have jobs that need doing, and you’re looking for a job…what a coincidence.

Not saying I support this line of thought, but some people have proposed it.

Isaiah

June 3rd, 2011
11:20 am

Cynthia, so what you are saying is that it’s OK to break a Federal Law???? Your blogs are generally on the idiot side as a whole. You hit rock bottom on this one! I guess the next question will be, how low will she go?
Now, on the other hand, if you wrote this just to stir peoples gander up…. congrats it worked, but continue to think of the ILLEGALS and not the American Citizens…… Are you related to McKinney??? My guess yes you are.

Are you THAT Dumb???

June 3rd, 2011
11:21 am

Illegals don’t vote . . . remember you already took care of ACORN . . .lmbehindo @ how dumb y’all are . . . hahahaha ., . . Obama sets oil prices . . . Republicans who won mid-term elections will provide jobs . . . hahahahaha ARE YOU THAT DUMB?

I already know but . . . don’t let your ignorance and hatefulness block your blessings, people . . .

Halftrack

June 3rd, 2011
11:22 am

CT; The fields need strong backs and willing hands, and there aren’t enough of those around. Are you supporting “modern slavery” today. It is the impression of your article you want to continue illegal aliens working for GA farmers but at a low wage. Would you, Could you be my neighbor that supports the Immigration laws? and free enterprise that supports paying workers what they should earn. Many fringe benefits do not get paid, therefore not only the “illegal alien” gets hurt but the citizen as well by eventually not having a job and being on jobless welfare and our State Revenues become lower causing more services to be cut, etc. It’s a snowball that gets bigger & bigger and the people become poorer and poorer. Accountability stops the snowball and helps everyone to make the right change.

Liberal Chicks are UGLY

June 3rd, 2011
11:22 am

No it doesn’t, idiot.

jconservative

June 3rd, 2011
11:23 am

There is a reason we do not have a national immigration policy. The system we have of “no policy” is working just fine. Business has plenty of cheap labor, most farmers have plenty of cheap labor, and members of Congress have plenty of money in their campaign chests.

Why would those three interest groups want to change a thing?

jimmy

June 3rd, 2011
11:25 am

I don’t understand why C.T., still has a job with any newspaper.She should be in the unemploymet line with the rest of the Obama,backers.

Let them stay - they have so much to give!

June 3rd, 2011
11:28 am

Now c’mon folks, these illegal workers are not slaves. They will earn an income, although a small one. They will also need to supplement that income to support their families with alot of assistance via “entitlements” from GA taxpayers. Let us not forget that free public education with a side of ESOL for the illegal Catholics who will multiply like bunnies!

We will also need more prison and or jail space for the hard working and party harder illegals. Perhaps we can just deport them and banish them ever entering the US again if they commit another crime (in addtion to being here illegally), as most country’s around the World do.

Yes, the state of GA needs illegal workers. ;)

JV

June 3rd, 2011
11:29 am

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Georgia farmers received $5.8 BILLION dollars in taxpayer federal FARM SUBSIDIES between 1995 and 2009. Georgia ranks 16th in the nation for this free money. EWG has a website. Just look it up. The state farm lobby has repeatedly said it cost too them much to use the legal route called the H2A program. How about using some of that $5.8 billion to pay for “LEGAL GUEST WORKERS”?

Chuck

June 3rd, 2011
11:31 am

Cynthia,

The agri-business owners may need illegal workers but the state of Georgia does not. I don’t know how you don’t see that this is the same as the plantations of the past. If you can’t grow cotton without slave labor, grow something else or don’t grow anything at all! The same goes with onions, tomatos, etc.

Fletch

June 3rd, 2011
11:33 am

Hey, I just thought of another benefit to HB 87. Has anyone else noticed a decrease in the amount of people loitering in front of gas stations and near the home improvement stores?

Mother Nature

June 3rd, 2011
11:34 am

I have imposed a drought on the state of GA yet again. I would say my timing is perfect! :)

bev

June 3rd, 2011
11:35 am

Leave the illegal “workers” alone! They’re just trying to make an “honest” living; and no, they don’t take jobs away from Americans! If Americans wanted these jobs, then why aren’t they filling them? I’m all for deporting criminals, but not hard-workers!! They really do provide us with a service.

Aside from that, our population is declining enough already. Without them, we really would have a serious decline in our growth.

Captain Midnight

June 3rd, 2011
11:35 am

@ Good Grief- what’s wrong with that line of thought. What’s wrong with the idea of supporting yourself? Take the entitlements out of the equation. If there is no work here, you go there. Period.
Work is work. Here or there. It’s hard to listen to the complaints of people who can’t find a job when you have people like Cindy Tucker telling us all how we need illegal labor. How many fathers with hungry children during the depression would have stood by and let some alien be paid for work that he could be paid for. It wouldn’t have happened. Welfare used to be a shameful word. What happened to that?

Rich kid

June 3rd, 2011
11:36 am

Cynthia= not very smart.

Welfare?

June 3rd, 2011
11:37 am

the commenter is right on, why shouldn’t the individuals on welfare or unemployment be required to accept jobs like this while either looking to get another job or get off welfare?? Guarantee you if this was enacted you would see a record number of people getting off welfare in the next 12 months and finding jobs. The problem is we have become a society that even our poorest expect to be taken care of and the ones who make it are forced to “give back”, implying that they took what they got and didn’t work hard for it.

RJH

June 3rd, 2011
11:38 am

How about a rule where if you are an able-bodied individual who wishes to recieve government-funded entitlements (i.e.: welfare) then the government will help you look for a job, but at the same time we’ll send you to work in one of these fields. We have jobs that need doing, and you’re looking for a job…what a coincidence.

The ACLU will just file another lawsuit – welfare folks rights, too! ;)

Vickie

June 3rd, 2011
11:39 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.

Also if the farmers put the word out to come and work, unemployed Americans WILL come to the job!!!!!!!!!!!

THE MAJOR

June 3rd, 2011
11:39 am

I love the comments of those who have never stepped foot on a real farm. $75000 for a mechanical onion picker, really!? Onions can be picked by mechanical but tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, squash, and the list can go on and on have to be picked by hand. These farmers have tried hiring locals at more than the $12.50 per hour price but there were no takers.

People can complain that illegals are working for the farmers, but when the price of the produce escalates due to shortages and higher costs of labor, you will still be the ones raising hell then.

RJH

June 3rd, 2011
11:40 am

“Enter your comments hereThe 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.”

Um, no … per the ACLU – yet ANOTHER lawsuit – prisoner’s rights ;)

Captain Midnight

June 3rd, 2011
11:42 am

The Major-stop the handouts and watch how fast those $12.50 per hr jobs fill up.
Farm labor is no different that any other outdoor manual labor ie roofing, framing,masonary,landscaping, ditch digging etc.
The list goes on. Work is work and if it was fun and easy they wouldn’t pay you for it.

Barner B. Jones

June 3rd, 2011
11:43 am

For once cynthia is right. Many Americans are too busy to work the fields. They’re too busy lying around watching their flat screen tvs, thanks to the liberals’ food stamp and welfare programs.

Ad Naseum

June 3rd, 2011
11:44 am

“They’re just trying to make an “honest” living; and no, they don’t take jobs away from Americans! If Americans wanted these jobs, then why aren’t they filling them?”

I think we have establish that we have an entitlement class and an inmate population that COULD work and SHOULD pay back their debt to society.

Illegal “slave” labor will only add to the debt burden thru entitlements.

Welfare?

June 3rd, 2011
11:44 am

Major,

that is the attitude that keeps illegals here in the first place. Stop asking people taking govt handouts and tell them that as long as they are on govt pay they will accept these jobs or be taken off welfare. Correctional facilities are another candidate, they are costing us $ too. I think it is time that the poor start to “give back”

Liberal Labor

June 3rd, 2011
11:46 am

“thanks to the liberals’ food stamp and welfare programs.”

DC

June 3rd, 2011
11:47 am

So CT, you’re in favor of illegal immigrants being taken advantage of by these farmers, who say they have no other way to harvest their crops? Since when have you ever been on the side of business? If they’re illegal, they don’t need to be here. Get some of these lazy Americans to go out there and harvest the crops. If they can really make $12.50 per hour, that’s more than unemployment pays. But it’s work, so I guess we can’t make people do that, right? Would CT support making all these lazy welfare cheats harvest those crops? Probably not.

camcat

June 3rd, 2011
11:48 am

The one word here that makes this whole thing a non issue to me is the word (Illegal) which means against the law! Illegals should either be made to get Legal or be sent back to the country they came from. Yes America was founded by immigrants most of which came here legally. I am in no way against immigration, just illegal immigration.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

June 3rd, 2011
11:50 am

Censoring differing points of view, Ms. Tucker? Not too sporting…or patriotic.

Tim Parker

June 3rd, 2011
11:51 am

Cynthia, you were the sole reason I cancelled my AJC subsription. Thank-you

Latino (US Citizen)

June 3rd, 2011
11:53 am

For those who think that inmates can do the work I can tell you right now that you are wrong. They would rather be under the shade than work in the fields. Also to be a professional painter you need at least 2 years to become a pro. Inmates can do it, but you will end up having a very very sloppy job. Also I don’t think you want a killer or a rapist painting your house. What about restaurants? In every restaurant there are latinos working in the kitchen. Latinos do painting, roofing, bricks, siding, maid services and soo many other things. I’m sure that the paint on the walls of your house was done by hispanics. The carpet you walk on too. Even the food your eat every day (tomatos, onios, peper,etc). And if you think latinos are not paying taxes you should go after the people who exploit them by paying them just enough to survive. Billy in the other hand gets to keep all the money and maybe pays some tax. You guys want someone who makes 8 an hour when he should be making 15 to still pay taxes? You guys are a joke. But remember the employer has to take the taxes from his or her check and send them to the state and federal goverment. At the end they dont get that money back becuase the dont have a social. Guess who get that money? People with a social with lots of kids. You might say yeah but the children of illegals go to schools. Yes. but they rent or have a home and either them or the landloard pays property taxes and what about the taxes the pay and they dont get back because they dont have a social. There are alottt of people legal americans that take advantage of section 8 and are sooo lazyyy. Why go after the people that are hard working? The shirtless(Los desprotejidos)

Good Grief

June 3rd, 2011
11:54 am

What if we send the ACLU to work in the fields….

Fast Julio

June 3rd, 2011
11:55 am

Im glad they are leaving, it is freeing up the traffic on 85. Illegals drive soooooo slow.

Say it aint so.

June 3rd, 2011
11:55 am

Cynthia, the problem is not the immigrants its the illegals and no, this country does not need to put our citizens at risk. They need to inforce our LAWS period.

Oh and by the way, the illegals working on the road and bridges projects with our stimulus money are not making 12 dollars per hour you got that? Stop being a pawn for your man Obama and be an American for once. We demand that the government do their job and they are not doing it by allowing illegals to flood our boarders like ants in a ant hill.

Red

June 3rd, 2011
11:56 am

Here’s a question: the $12.50 per hour or $18.00 an hour or $20.00 an hour wage that is quoted for agricultural work is not really an hourly wage is it?

It’s an average based on ‘piece work’ – that the pay is actually based on the number of baskets of produce rendered in an hour?

RxDawg

June 3rd, 2011
11:56 am

I liked your post becky.

I’d also like to add, they should of gotten rid of the auto citizenship deal yesterday.

ABAC Degree

June 3rd, 2011
11:56 am

“These farmers have tried hiring locals at more than the $12.50 per hour price but there were no takers.”

They could hire students from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College to do the work

Grasshopper

June 3rd, 2011
11:57 am

‘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…’

That’s because they can get welfare and food stamps for sitting on their butts all day. Take these liberal perks away and they’ll be begging to pick onions and tomatoes.

OtisTheDrunk

June 3rd, 2011
11:58 am

Love the “putting the prisoners to work in the fields” idea…….”Shakin the bush Boss, shakin the bush” . Plus, It will break up the monotony of making license plates for them.

Sheriff Joe Aparo out in AZ has the right idea for prisoners….tents, chain gangs and pink prison uniforms.

Jerry

June 3rd, 2011
11:59 am

State needs LEGAL workers. Does not matter if they are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras- whatever. They need to become legal and pay into the system that they reap the benefits from (welfare, hospitals, schools, etc). What a boneheaded article.

Rafe Hollister

June 3rd, 2011
12:00 pm

This statement about Ga needing more illegal workers makes about as much sense as the USA giving foreign aid to countries that we borrow billions from to support our deficit. In other words we are giving them money and borrowing back our own money and paying interest on the debt.

Our government has just totally lost it and we do need fundamental change. Let us start with eliminating elected Democrats and then moving on to the Republicans.

Voice of Reason

June 3rd, 2011
12:01 pm

Does the word “ILLEGAL” have any meaning to you, Cynthia Tucker? I continue to be amazed at the people in this country that don’t seem to pay attention to this word.

RxDawg

June 3rd, 2011
12:02 pm

oops, I meant the anchor baby auto citzenship rule. If your born to two illeagle parents, your still illeagle and don’t qualify for free everything from a system that you have not contributed to.

Jerry

June 3rd, 2011
12:02 pm

And Grasshopper has it right. Quit giving free rides to all the out of work Americans. The “I can’t find a job” lot. Well, you know what people? Farmer Brown is hiring. If the government quit mailing you a free check every week for sitting at home, we could kill 2 birds with one stone here.

Jim

June 3rd, 2011
12:03 pm

I think the Republicans believe that they can destroy enough good paying American jobs so that our middle class Americans will be glad to work in the fields.
The ways things are going we may even see Grandma working in the fields so that she can afford her cat food for dinner. NO socialist entitlements like Social Security or Medicare for the old coot!!
The GOP knows how our wealthiest Americans are really struggling to pay their income taxes and are in desperate need for another tax cut. As Christians, we all know that Jesus would take food and medical care from our poorest so that the rich can keep more of their money for bigger and better mansions!

BOB FROM ACCOUNT TEMPS

June 3rd, 2011
12:03 pm

GATOR JOE @10:35AM – sorry dude, but the fact is that agri-business gave equally to both parties in 2010. they give most to the party in power and last year i guess they didn’t know which way to flop.

monty

June 3rd, 2011
12:04 pm

BEV

You are a simpleton.

Cynthia Sucker

June 3rd, 2011
12:04 pm

I have one word to describe this situation — rationalize.

You can rationalize anything but where does it end? If an illegal steals bread is that okay? The rationale is he needs to feed his family. If he/she lies to officials or creates a fake ID is that okay? He/she needs an education, medical care etc and is not legal so they lie. If the illegals band together to form their own agricultural co-op or buy their own farm is that okay? what if they get tired of low wages and hard labor and want other jobs. Is that alright too? The point is once you cross the line (i.e. break the law or ignore the law) there are no restraints and its human nature to test these limits.

Yes, we will probably have to pay more for produce but guess what? We are paying more already in the added social costs of an additional 20 million illegals in this country. It is a naive person who believes illegals are here FREE. They cost tax payers plenty, which is why the border states oppose it.

Say it aint so.

June 3rd, 2011
12:04 pm

Illegals working farms at 12.00 per hour
Illegals having children educated in ga schools

lenny

June 3rd, 2011
12:08 pm

remember the grapes of wrath

Another Voice

June 3rd, 2011
12:09 pm

Where are all the Georgians complaining that the immigrants were taking their jobs??? The fields await you…. why are you pushing the jobs to convicts? I though you wanted this….. Who is going to spend the money into Georgia’s economy to cover the hole left by the immigrants? You got to get to work on fields other wise no money to spend…. Too much complaining not enough work, now you got the law passed and there are no excuses. I do not want to pay $5 dollars a head of lettuce because short supply at the store. Get to it….