The Bloom is Off the Rose – and the Onion – for Georgia Immigration Law
Now that the Supreme Court has upheld - for the time being - the "show-me-your-papers" provision of Arizona's home-grown immigration law, attorneys for the State of Georgia are in court seeking permission to enforce a similar measure, passed by the Georgia legislature at the height of the (thankfully) short-lived "me-too" movement. [See Georgia Pushes for ID Checks After Arizona Decision, by Jeremy Redmon, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (09.Jul.2012).] According to a 2011 Pew Hispanic Center report cited by the AJC, about 325,000 illegal immigrants were employed in Georgia in 2010. The number must be considerably lower today, but it's unclear by precisely how much.
In any case, there are strong indications that Georgia's version of SB 1070 has been successful in driving illegal immigrants out of the state. This intended consequence has had some unintended effects that bring to mind the old adage, "be careful what you wish for: you just might get it." No provision was made to remedy the mismatch between supply and demand for agricultural jobs that had been filled largely by illegal immigrant laborers, people poor and desperate enough to take these backbreaking, low-paying jobs. The result? Georgia farmers lost millions of dollars because they couldn't find enough willing workers to pick their crops. In sheer desperation, some farmers arranged to have prison laborers bring in the harvest. [See Vidalia Farmers Turn to Prison System for Harvest Help After Immigration Crackdown, by Emily Smith and Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN Eatocracy Blog (09.Jul.2012).]
This self-inflicted labor shortage did considerable damage to Georgia's agricultural economy, CNN noted, citing a study from the University of Georgia's Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development:
"The study examined seven staple Georgia crops, Vidalia onions included. The findings were shocking: 18 Vidalia-producing farms lost an estimated $16,312,345 and 835 jobs. In total, the seven crops studied lost almost $75 million and more than 5,200 jobs because of the labor shortage."
So, if anyone thinks these laws are still a good idea, they'll need to weigh any expected benefits against an ever-longer list of negatives - increased costs to local law enforcement, social divisiveness caused by racial profiling, increased taxes to pay for expensive civil rights lawsuits, and now large-scale labor shortages in the agricultural sector. One hopes Congress will take the hint and get back down to business on comprehensive immigration reform, to end these counterproductive experiments at the state level.
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