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Georgia’s 2011 Anti-Immigrant Law Left ‘Crops Rotting in the Fields.’ Trump Wants To Make It Worse 

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The first 2024 presidential debate, taking place Thursday evening in Atlanta, will likely feature two contrasting visions for America. President Joe Biden introduced legislation featuring a pathway to citizenship soon after taking office and has, in recent weeks, announced action to protect hundreds of thousands of eligible undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens, and ease the process for some DACA recipients to be sponsored by their employers. GOP nominee and convicted felon Donald Trump, meanwhile, has pledged to build mass detention camps and deport millions of long-settled immigrants from the country and will likely take the stage tonight to continue promoting lies and dangerous anti-immigrant rhetoric . 

But you don’t have to look any further than the state of Georgia to see the economic and humanitarian costs of the kind of anti-immigrant policies that Trump wants to implement from coast to coast. 

Back in 2011, Georgia Republicans passed H.B. 87, an Arizona-style bill that made it a crime to knowingly transport undocumented immigrants – even if it was a friend or loved one – and established a “papers please” policy allowing local law enforcement to harass anyone they “reasonably suspected” to be in the country unlawfully about their legal immigration status, America’s Voice wrote in 2021.

But Georgia also depends on its immigrant workers, who make up “16.1 percent of the service industry, 23.1 percent of the natural resources, construction and maintenance industry and 16.6 percent of the production, transportation, and material moving industry,” the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute said in 2021. Like other farm-rich states, Georgia’s agricultural industry is also sustained by immigrant laborers, making it “perennially the number one state in the nation” for peanuts, pecans, blueberries, and spring onions, the Georgia Farm Bureau said

The state is also a top producer of broiler chickens. 2021’s Gainesville tragedy highlighted the dangers of meatpacking plant work when a nitrogen leak killed six laborers and injured many others. Five of the six workers who lost their lives helping sustain our food supply were Latinos. 

H.B. 87 struck at these vital industries and essential workers. The headlines that followed in the ensuing months said it all. ”Georgia Farmers Say Immigration Law Keeps Workers Away,” NPR reported in 2011. “Crackdown on illegal immigrants left crops rotting in Georgia fields, ag chief tells US lawmakers,” the Associated Press reported the same year. “The Law Of Unintended Consequences: Georgia’s Immigration Law Backfires,” Forbes said in 2011. One report estimated $300 million in crop losses. So, you can imagine there was a lot of relief among the Georgia agricultural industry and other business leaders when the law was blocked. Not many would say it publicly, of course (see Iowa this year too.)

Now picture this on a national scale if Trump returns to the White House in January 2025 and begins to implement his mass purging of millions from the country, including workers who sustain our nation’s food supply, teach our children, care for the elderly, build our homes and repair our roads, care for our children and work in our hospitals. More than one million farmworkers, gone. More than 200,000 food and production workers, gone. 1.6 million workers in the construction industry, gone. More than 20,000 teachers protected by DACA, gone. More than 200,000 frontline workers, gone. More than 140,000 childcare, personal care, and home care workers, gone.

Trump’s mass deportation plan would lead us over an economic cliff, backfiring “on the US economy by worsening worker shortages, reigniting inflation and forcing the Federal Reserve to keep borrowing costs high for even longer,” CNN reported. Experts say that it would cost hundreds of thousands of U.S.-born workers their livelihoods. “By one calculation, deporting 1 million immigrants would lead to 88,000 additional employment losses by other Americans, suggesting that Trump’s program could cost up to 968,000 Americans their jobs on top of the 7.1 million jobs held by immigrants up for deportation,” Robert Shapiro, former Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs, wrote at Washington Monthly in May.

Immigrants have also been essential to Trump’s personal interests, working at his resorts, his family’s winery, and even washing his clothes and feeding his family. “There are millions of us here without papers, and the country depends on us,” his former housekeeper Victorina Morales said in 2019. “He knows that, because his businesses depend on us and he knows how hard I worked.” Is the Trump Organization still exploiting undocumented labor? That’s one question we’d love to hear him answer tonight. Will he let Stephen Miller send the National Guard to his golf courses and vineyard to round up workers?

Trump knows he can’t win the debate by talking about deporting farmworkers, teachers, caregivers, and other essential workers critical to our everyday lives, so he’s going to sink to disgusting lows by resorting to Willie Horton-style dog whistle attacks, advancing anti-immigrant conspiracy theories to undermine confidence in our electoral process, and ignoring his record while in office, including the traumatic separation of thousands of children from their parents at the border

We don’t need to try to imagine the nationwide fallout if Trump returns to power next year. Georgia’s history following the passage of H.B. 87 has already previewed the economic, humanitarian, and political consequences of attacking our friends, neighbors, and coworkers. 

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