For a variety of reasons, it will never happen, but below is an outline of a statement I would enjoy seeing made public by the majority of Georgia legislators who had the courage to vote “YEA” on Georgia Rep. Matt Ramsey’s immigration enforcement bill earlier this year.
In the 2011 session the General Assembly passed the ‘Georgia Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011’ (HB 87), aimed at protecting Georgians from the ravages of the crime of illegal immigration.
While citing an annual $2.4 billion dollar state cost of illegal immigration, Gov. Deal signed HB 87 into law in May with loud approval and gratitude from the huge majority of Georgia citizens.
Thousands of illegal aliens who have escaped capture by Border Patrol Agents have migrated out of Georgia because of HB 87. This is not surprising to anyone who voted for the legislation.
We want to assure the public and the press that despite the endless, concentrated and transparent barrage of one-sided, incomplete media reports on the supposed negative effects of Georgia’s enforcement policy, we have every confidence that the legislation is having the desired positive effect for our beloved state.
Of particular interest are the effects of the promise of enforcement on the agriculture industry.
We find it necessary to note that hiring illegal labor was illegal long before HB 87 became law. And that Georgia suffers from raging unemployment and severe budget problems. And that HB 87 merely expanded on 2006 state law requiring use of the no-cost E-Verify system by public employers like local governments as well as public contractors.
Further, we sadly note that the current dilemma in which some of Georgia’s growers find themselves was easily avoided by simply using the long existing federal foreign guest worker system known as the H2A visa program.
This visa establishes lawful means for agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring an unlimited number of temporary foreign workers into the United States. Including Georgia.
But the grateful, legal, temporary workers must be treated with dignity and respect. Employers must provide housing that meets lawful safety and health standards. They must also provide workers’ compensation insurance to workers.
The wage for H2A workers must be the same as that for U.S. workers.
The employer must ensure the legal temporary workers receive three meals a day.
We are certain that no reasonable Georgian can somehow maintain that these requirements are somehow unfair, cumbersome or “too costly.”
With little fear of federal sanctions, these requirements make pliable and desperate, fugitive illegals considerably more profitable to use.
Even if no American ever again applies for employment in Georgia’s Ag business, farmers have access to the legal foreign H2A workers if they properly prepare for a Georgia in which they must operate their business in a lawful manner.
We find it troubling that with the agriculture industry receiving billions in taxpayer subsidies, many farmers are openly using black-market labor. A recent poll of Georgia farmers revealed only 5 percent of them had tried the H2A. During the committee process on HB 87, the constant and endless objection to the H2A workers from the agriculture industry lobbyists was that lawful workers were more costly than the illegals who have been used for decades.
In committee, one Ag lobbyist, Brian Tolar, compared the H2A guest worker program to a Cadillac, with the admonition that not everyone can afford that luxury auto.
We do not regard compliance with immigration laws or HB 87 as a luxury.
We encourage business owners in Georgia’s agriculture industry to follow the lead of the Georgia Peach Council in use of the H2A temporary guest worker visa. Mr. Frank Funderburk, director of the Georgia Peach Council, was quoted in a widely distributed spring 2011 Associated Press report: “Our growers can’t afford to not have a work crew,” Funderburk said. “They bit the bullet several years ago (and joined H-2A) and they jumped from paying $7 an hour to $9.”
We believe Mr. Funderburk’s remarks speak volumes on the solution to an increasing level of absence of illegal farm labor in Georgia.
We urge Congress to consider streamlining and improving the H2A visa system while we insist that Georgia’s farmers apply all necessary speed to fully comply with existing law.
In closing, we believe it imperative and timely to make it clear that we reject out of hand any legalization program for illegal aliens, including one that would serve to create captive workers who would be fully dependent on the bosses to maintain their amnesty status.
One reporter has asked if HB 87 would pass today, in light of the dubious reports commissioned by the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association on the self-inflicted tribulations of farmers who have refused use of the available legal system for obtaining employees.
Most Georgians will be happy to hear: The answer is a resounding “YEA.”
Signed: Most of the Georgia General Assembly.
Originally published October 17, 2011.