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Rep. Lamar Smith Wants to Do to U.S. Agriculture as Anti-Immigrant Politicians Did to Georgia

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Georgia agriculture immigrationEarlier this month, The Associated Press reported that the U.S. agricultural industry was gravely concerned about the prospects of E-Verify legislation, which is sponsored by one-third of our “Three Amigos” on immigration: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX):

The agriculture industry fears a disaster is on the horizon if the one bit of new immigration policy that Congress seems to agree on becomes law.

 “Fears a disaster.” That’s not a line that you read every day. But many scoffed at the concern, thinking it was rhetoric.

 It’s not, and there’s vivid proof in Georgia.

The Georgia Legislature jumped on the anti-immigrant bandwagon this spring and enacted a state-based E-Verify legislation. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and the Legislature ignored the concerns of the state’s business and agriculture industry. Now Georgia has a disaster on its hands – and it’s entirely self-made. 

Growers and business owners in Georgia are speaking up about the serious problems they are grappling with due to their state’s version of the law.  As the drumbeat grows louder in Georgia, we wonder if the noise will reach Washington, DC,  where Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is proposing E-Verify as an economic cure-all and the cornerstone of the Republicans’ jobs program.

Unfortunately for Mr. Smith, Georgia is a prime example of the astronomical burdens, costs, and consequences that E-Verify will have on small businesses, the agriculture industry, and ultimately, taxpayers and consumers.

Lawmakers in Washington — and farmers across the country — should take note of what’s happening in Georgia.  You see — Rep. Smith wants to do the same thing to all of America. He seems to think that any job vacated by an undocument inmigrant will be snatched up by an unemployed American citizen. At DailyKos, Markos Moulitsas calls this “Lamar Smith’s ‘bizarre’ employment plan.”  Judging by Lamar Smith’s “logic,” unemployed Americans by the thousands should be flocking to Georgia to line up in the fields to fill the labor void left by the experienced immigrant workers who fled due to the state’s law. 

Not exactly.

As Georgia is learning – through rotting food and higher prices — short-sighted laws have consequences. They’re learning that workers aren’t interchangeable. They’re also finding that yes, in fact, immigrant workers are the backbone of our nation’s agriculture industry. 

Georgia is making it clear: mandatory E-Verify isn’t a jobs program. It’s an economic disaster of the highest order and a full-fledged assault on one of America’s prized industries. But will Washington listen to what farmers and growers from Georgia are saying? Here’s some of the talk about rotting crops, higher prices and the devastating impact on small businesses: 

“What we began hearing in mid- to late May was many of our migrant workers, they were not coming to Georgia.  Farmers are short on harvest labor 30 to 50 percent. You don’t have a whole lot of window — that crop has to come out or it’ll spoil.”  – Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Grower’s Association.

“For these guys picking peaches across the state of Georgia, that’s their career. They do good work and you can’t find that quality of work anywhere else.” – Drew Echols, farm manager at Jaemor Farms in Alto, GA to the Gainseville Times.

“It’s appalling, because they didn’t think through the implications, at the farm level.  It’s like a witch hunt that tells immigrants: ‘we want you gone.”  – Gary Paulk, sixth-generation blackberry farmer and former county chair of Gov. Nathan Deal’s gubernatorial campaign to Time

“Fruits and vegetables in Georgia were worth $1.1 billion. We could see a $200 (million) to $250 million loss, potentially.  The consumer may or may not see a difference in price.” – Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Grower’s Association.

“A state survey released this month reveals the scope of the farm industry’s problems: There are as many as 11,080 farming jobs open in Georgia now, or about 14 percent of the full-time positions that are filled in the industry annually. Farmers are warning this problem could reach metro Atlanta as the labor gap could boost prices in local grocery stores.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting on the impact the law is already having on the state’s ag industry.

“In recent weeks, one-third of his 300 field workers have fled. His request for state temporary workers hasn’t been answered.  Now, Paulk expects to abandon about 25% of his 125 acres, at a projected loss of $250,000 this season.” – Recent impact of law on Gary Paulk, sixth-generation blackberry farmer and former county chair of Gov. Nathan Deal’s gubernatorial campaign as characterized by Time.

“Many of our farmers don’t have a human resources department … there might be personnel costs and loss of productivity.  You have the person first, then you E-Verify. It’s a three-week period. If you fire an employee (before the period is over) you could get a discrimination suit. It’s not a good situation.”  – Georgia Poultry Federation President, Mike Giles to the Gainesville Times.

Over the next few weeks, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, which Rep. Smith chairs, will mark-up his E-Verify bill. It will probably hit the House floor this fall. Smith is intent on passing this bill. After all, it is the centerpiece of his mass deportation strategy. In his worldview, deporting immigrants is his goal. Though while he’s pushing E-verify, the situation in Georgia worsens. Let’s see if the House will let Smith do to the U.S. agricultural industry what the anti-immigrant forces did to Georgia.