Georgia Boldly Leading The Way…Backward

Ah, Georgia. The Peach State. My state. Where, thanks to Governor Nathan Deal and the heavily GOP-controlled legislature, we see the final fruit of GOTea policymaking. Or, rather, the lack of fruit. Jay Bookman at the AJC has the forehead-smacking (though entirely predictable) details:

After enactment of House Bill 87, a law designed to drive illegal immigrants out of Georgia, state officials appear shocked to discover that HB 87 is, well, driving a lot of illegal immigrants out of Georgia.

It might almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

The resulting manpower shortage has forced state farmers to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.

Barely a month ago, you might recall, Gov. Nathan Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed HB 87 into law. Two weeks later, with farmers howling, a scrambling Deal was forced to order a hasty investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, as if all this had come as quite a surprise to him.

The results of that investigation have now been released. According to survey of 230 Georgia farmers conducted by Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, farmers expect to need more than 11,000 workers at some point over the rest of the season, a number that probably underestimates the real need, since not every farmer in the state responded to the survey.

Siiiigh. As Bookman says, “it might almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad.” The problem, of course, is that what has happened is, two conflicting desires of the GOTea party have come into conflict with one another on the issue of immigration – with predictable results – and the loser is the entire state’s economic fortunes…all in a time when the economy is already in none-too-great shape.

Those conflicting desires are a) exploiting cheap, hardworking illegal immigrant labor (who often, out of fear of ICE, will work at or below minimum wage for long hours) in order to provide cheap produce at maximum profit, and b) the “patriotic” urge to get all those dang “illegals” who are stealing our jobs (and setting fires, LOL) to go back where they belong right now, damnit!!

Well, the state’s already been doing the first of those things, quietly and without fuss, for some time now. In truth, Georgia’s agribusiness has, since the very beginning, depended upon labor that was either considerably sub-market wages or, um, free ifyouknowwhatimean **cough**. and, over the past fifteen years or so, Georgia has risen in rank among the states from its 1996 rank of #17 (pdf) to its current rank of #7. My family moved here in 2003, and though I have only my own anecdotal evidence to go on, it seems to me that the population of Spanish-speakers working in traditionally low-ish paying jobs here has risen just in that time. i’ve even heard lifelong Georgia residents who are fellow liberals remarking bitterly that “brown is the new black in Georgia.”

Only now, with the recent frenzy of tea party/Palin/McCain anti-immigrant sentiment, Georgia’s Republicans appear to be trying the second of those desires/goals: gettin’ rid of all the “illegal aliens.” With results that, as Bookman points out, are “entirely predictable and in fact intended.” And there aren’t any good, immediately-obvious solutions, either:

It’s hard to envision a way out of this. Georgia farmers could try to solve the manpower shortage by offering higher wages, but that would create an entirely different set of problems. If they raise wages by a third to a half, which is probably what it would take, they would drive up their operating costs and put themselves at a severe price disadvantage against competitors in states without such tough immigration laws. That’s one of the major disadvantages of trying to implement immigration reform state by state, rather than all at once.

The pain this is causing is real. People are going to lose their crops, and in some cases their farms. The small-town businesses that supply those farms with goods and services are going to suffer as well. For economically embattled rural Georgia, this could be a major blow.

That’s even putting it somewhat mildly, I think. But I agree completely with Bookman’s rueful conclusion:

We’re going to reap what we have sown, even if the farmers can’t.

One thought on “Georgia Boldly Leading The Way…Backward

Comments are closed.