Friday, March 25, 2011

Immigration bills rile farmers

From Cameron McWhirter and Jennifer Levitz of The Wall Street Journal on March 25:
ROBERTA, Ga.—Arizona-style immigration bills are under attack in several states, with some of the strongest opposition to the proposals coming from agricultural interests like the cotton and peach farmers here in central Georgia.

Farmers in states from Florida to Indiana are pressuring — and in some cases persuading — state politicians to rethink proposed legislation that would authorize crackdowns on illegal immigration. They argue that the legislation will drive Mexican workers out of their states, and that there aren't enough American workers willing to pick crops. They want legislation at the federal level, which wouldn't favor one state over another.

At least 25 states are weighing proposals to crack down on illegal immigration and employers who hire them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona law allows police to check the immigration status of people they stop, and establishes stiff penalties for businesses or individuals who hire illegal immigrants.

"Nobody wants illegal immigrants, but when you get down to the reality of the situation, farmers have to have workers to do the job," said Al Pearson, a peach and pecan farmer in Roberta. He said he hires only federally approved guest laborers to work his 3,600-acre farm, paying them $9.11 an hour plus benefits.

But the current federal system, involving approvals from multiple agencies, is slow and can't process enough legal workers for the state's large agricultural industry, he said. A bureaucratic glitch held up approvals for 100 Mexican workers for two weeks in February, setting back his tree pruning and other preparations for peach-picking season. "It frightened me because I didn't have a plan B. I don't have domestic workers," he said.

"There is no farm in this county that could continue without Mexican labor," said Robert Ray, a Crawford County farmer who for years led the agriculture committee in the Georgia House.


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