6/10 – ajc.com – Farm labor survey results sent to Gov. Deal | ajc.com

Farm labor survey results sent to Gov. Deal  | ajc.com.

Georgia Politics 5:26 p.m. Friday, June 10, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The state Agriculture Department on Friday sent Gov. Nathan Deal the results of a farm labor survey triggered by complaints concerning Georgia’s stringent new immigration enforcement law.

A spokeswoman for the Republican governor, however, indicated Deal’s office would not publicly release the results until some time next week.

“The governor’s office received the information requested from the Agriculture Commissioner at 4:45 pm.,” said Stephanie Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Deal. “The governor would like to review the report and will be making comments about the content next week.”

Deal asked for the survey last month after farmers complained the new law is scaring migrant farmworkers away from Georgia and putting hundreds of millions of dollars in crops at risk.

The Georgia Agribusiness Council – which lobbied against the law in the state Legislature – released the results of its own survey this week. Nearly half of the 132 Georgia businesses polled in that survey say they are experiencing agricultural labor shortages. And of those who reported shortages to the council, more than a third said immigrants are concerned about the state’s new anti-illegal immigration law. The council said it surveyed farmers, landscape companies and other related businesses.

Also this week, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said his agency was still measuring the extent of the state’s farm labor shortages and that it was too early to call the problem a “crisis.” The Republican commissioner said his agency has dispatched representatives to meet with farmers in South Georgia and ask them how the Labor Department could help fill any open jobs.

Asked about the impact of the state’s new immigration enforcement law, Butler said a combination of factors could be to blame for the labor shortages, including the types of jobs farmers have open and what they pay.

“One season is not enough to pass judgment,” Butler predicted. “Maybe we do have some farmers that are having a hard time hiring right now, but next year they may not because… once they have to get used to hiring legal workers maybe they will be there.”

Signed into law last month by Deal, the measure empowers police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects and punishes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants or use fake identification to get jobs here.

Several civil rights groups and others have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court to block the law from taking effect. They argue the measure is preempted by federal law and unconstitutional.

State lawmakers say they crafted the law to protect it from court challenges. Proponents argue the law is constitutional and that it will help curb illegal immigration in Georgia.

Much of the law is scheduled to start taking effect on July 1.

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