|RAY HENRY Associated Press|
ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has asked agriculture officials to assess complaints of farm labor shortages after he signed one of the toughest laws in the country targeting illegal immigrants, including those who help harvest the state’s fruit and vegetable crops.
The letter sent Thursday asks Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black to report his findings by June 10.
“Producers of fresh fruit, vegetables and other commodities important to Georgia’s agricultural economy are in peak harvest season, and in the months to come, other labor intensive commodities will be harvested thus continuing the demand for farm labor,” Deal said in a letter first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Many farmers have raised concerns about the availability of an adequate, stable workforce for Georgia’s production agricultural industry.”
Black, who agreed to conduct the survey, said his office has received several phone calls from farmers reporting labor issues. As part of the assessment, state officials are relying on an online survey that asks farmers what crops they raise, their workforce needs, what they pay in salary and benefits and how they recruit their laborers.
“We’re trying to determine if there’s a problem at all and to what extent it’s affecting growers,” Black said.
The law signed by Deal this month is among the toughest in the country cracking down on illegal immigrants. It penalizes people who harbor or transport illegal immigrants in some situations and allows law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of suspects who cannot show an approved form of identification. Using false documents to get a job will be a felony once the law goes into effect in July.
Private employers with more than 10 workers must eventually use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires.
Farmers complain that U.S. workers will not take low-paying, difficult farm jobs. They have criticized the crackdown for fear it will scare away farmworkers — including many illegal immigrants — who provide the muscle necessary to collect easily bruised crops such as fruits and vegetables that cannot be harvested by machine.
The state’s largest farm lobbying group, the Georgia Farm Bureau, has argued that immigration policies should be set by the federal government, not the state.
State lawmakers previously directed the state Department of Agriculture to investigate an existing federal guest worker program for the agriculture industry and provide recommendations for improving it.