In his recent visit to Washington, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black testified about the need to reform farm labor laws and update the federal guest worker program.
The Washington trip is Georgia’s latest effort to reform federal immigration laws and stop the hemorrhaging of farm workers currently occurring throughout the South. The loss of farm labor is the result of Georgia’s tough new labor laws. Last summer, the state legislature attempted to crack down on illegal immigration, requiring all employers to verify the immigration status of their employees using the federal E-Verify system. In addition, state law enforcement was empowered to verify the immigration status of all individuals detained by police.
In the wake of the law’s passage, farm laborers left the state in droves, leaving a massive void in the state’s labor population. The resulting lack of laborers led to millions of dollars of losses in the agricultural sector while crops across the state rotted in fields.
Black’s trip included testimony in front of the House of Representatives as to the necessity of new guest worker laws. Current guidelines to the guest worker program, many farmers say, are too cumbersome and expensive to make it worth their while. One of his suggestions to reduce the burden and the bureaucratic red tape was to have the federal government contract with the individual states to administer the guest worker program.
“This is an issue where we sit in a stadium and the opposing sides have been screaming at each other for a long time, but there are not many people on the field playing,” Black said after his testimony. “I think it’s time to come down out of the grandstands and let’s all work together to try to get a 21st century guest worker program that works for all of agriculture.”
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer